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Full text of "The Harvard classics Volume 24"

ST. MICHAEL'S COLLEGE 

TORONTO, CANADA 



LIBRARY 




PRESENTED BY 



J. J. McK n ight 



THE HARVARD CLASSICS 



The Five-Foot Shelf of Books 



THE HAR 
EDITED BY ( 



Edmund Burke 

On Ta 

On the Sublime and Beautiful 
Reflections on the French Re 

Letter to a N? rd 

With Introduction and N 

Vo. 




P. F. Collier 6c Son 







Marie Antoinette on the way to her execution 

From the fainting by Francois Flameng 



THE HARVARD CLASSICS 
EDITED BY CHARLES W. ELIOT, LL.D. 



Edmund Burke 

On Taste 

On the Sublime and Beautiful 

Reflections on the French Revolution 

A Letter to a Noble Lord 



Introduction and Notes 
Volume 14 




P. F. Collier & Son Corporation 
NEW YORK 



Copyright, 1909 
BY P. F. COLLIER & SON 

MANUFACTURED IN U. S. A. 




MAY 2 2 1958 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

PREFACE 7 

ON TASTE 

INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE n 

THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 
PART I. 

SECTION I. NOVELTY 29 

SECT. II. PAIN AND PLEASURE 30 

SECT. III. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE REMOVAL OF PAIN, 

AND POSITIVE PLEASURE 31 

SECT. IV. OF DELIGHT AND PLEASURE AS OPPOSED TO EACH 

OTHER 33 

SECT. V. JOY AND GRIEF 34 

SECT. VI. OF THE PASSIONS WHICH BELONG TO SELF-PRESERVA- 
TION 35 

SECT. VII. OF THE SUBLIME 35 

SECT. VIII. OF THE PASSIONS WHICH BELONG TO SOCIETY . 36 
SECT. IX. THE FINAL CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 
THE PASSIONS BELONGING TO SELF-PRESERVATION AND THOSE 

WHICH REGARD THE SOCIETY OF THE SEXES 37 

SECT. X. OF BEAUTY 38 

SECT. XI. SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE 39 

SECT. XII. SYMPATHY, IMITATION, AND AMBITION .... 39 

SECT. XIII. SYMPATHY 39 

SECT. XIV. THE EFFECTS OF SYMPATHY IN THE DISTRESSES OF 

OTHERS . 40 

SECT. XV. OF THE EFFECTS OF TRAGEDY 42 

SECT. XVI. IMITATION 43 

SECT. XVII. AMBITION 44 

SECT. XVIII. THE RECAPITULATION 45 

SECT. XIX. THE CONCLUSION 46 



2 CONTENTS 

PAGE 

PART II. 

SECTION I. OF THE PASSION CAUSED BY THE SUBLIME ... 49 

SECT. II. TERROR 49 

SECT. III. OBSCURITY 50 

SECT. IV. OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLEARNESS AND 

OBSCURITY WITH REGARD TO THE PASSIONS 51 

SECT. [IV.] THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED 52 

SECT. V. POWER 55 

SECT. VI. PRIVATION 60 

SECT. VII. VASTNESS 61 

SECT. VIII. INFINITY 62 

SECT. IX. SUCCESSION AND UNIFORMITY 63 

SECT. X. MAGNITUDE IN BUILDING 64 

SECT. XL INFINITY IN PLEASING OBJECTS 65 

SECT. XII. DIFFICULTY 65 

SECT. XIII. MAGNIFICENCE 66 

SECT. XIV. LIGHT 67 

SECT. XV. LIGHT IN BUILDING 68 

SECT. XVI. COLOUR CONSIDERED AS PRODUCTIVE OF THE 

SUBLIME 69 

SECT. XVII. SOUND AND LOUDNESS 69 

SECT. XVIII. SUDDENNESS 70 

SECT. XIX. INTERMITTING 70 

SECT. XX. THE CRIES OF ANIMALS 71 

SECT. XXL SMELL AND TASTE. BITTERS AND STENCHES . . 71 

SECT. XXII. FEELING. PAIN 73 

PART III. 

SECTION I. OF BEAUTY 74 

SECT. II. PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN VEG- 
ETABLES 75 

SECT. HI. PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN ANIMALS 77 
SECT. IV. PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN THE 

HUMAN SPECIES 78 

SECT. V. PROPORTION FURTHER CONSIDERED 83 

SECT. VI. FITNESS NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY 85 

SECT. VII. THE REAL EFFECTS OF FITNESS . .... 87 



CONTENTS 3 

PAGE 

SECT. VIII. THE RECAPITULATION 89 

SECT. IX. PERFECTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY .... 90 
SECT. X. How FAR THE IDEA OF BEAUTY MAY BE APPLIED TO 

THE QUALITIES OF THE MIND 90 

SECT. XL How FAR THE IDEA OF BEAUTY MAY BE APPLIED 

TO VIRTUE 91 

SECT. XII. THE REAL CAUSE OF BEAUTY 92 

SECT. XIII. BEAUTIFUL OBJECTS SMALL 92 

SECT. XIV. SMOOTHNESS 93 

SECT. XV. GRADUAL VARIATION 94 

SECT. XVL DELICACY 95 

SECT. XVII. BEAUTY IN COLOUR 95 

SECT. XVIII. RECAPITULATION 96 

SECT. XIX. THE PHYSIOGNOMY 96 

SECT. XX. THE EYE 97 

SECT. XXI. UGLINESS . 97 

SECT. XXII. GRACE 98 

SECT. XXIII. ELEGANCE AND SPECIOUSNESS 98 

SECT. XXIV. THE BEAUTIFUL IN FEELING 98 

SECT. XXV. THE BEAUTIFUL IN SOUNDS . 100 

SECT. XXVI. TASTE AND SMELL 101 

SECT. XXVII. THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL COMPARED . . 101 

PART IV. 

SECTION I. OF THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE SUBLIME AND 

BEAUTIFUL 103 

SECT. II. ASSOCIATION . 104 

SECT. III. CAUSE OF PAIN AND FEAR 105 

SECT. IV. CONTINUED 106 

SECT. V. How THE SUBLIME is PRODUCED 107 

SECT. VI. How PAIN CAN BE A CAUSE OF DELIGHT . . . .107 
SECT. VII. EXERCISE NECESSARY FOR THE FINER ORGANS . .108 
SECT. VIII. WHY THINGS NOT DANGEROUS PRODUCE A PASSION 

LIKE TERROR 109 

SECT. IX. WHY VISUAL OBJECTS OF GREAT DIMENSIONS ARE 

SUBLIME 109 

SECT. X. UNITY, WHY REQUISITE TO VASTNESS . . no 



4 CONTENTS 

PAGE 

SECT. XL THE ARTIFICIAL INFINITE .in 

SECT. XII. THE VIBRATIONS MUST BE SIMILAR 112 

SECT. XIII. THE EFFECTS OF SUCCESSION IN VISUAL OBJECTS 

EXPLAINED 112 

SECT. XIV. LOCKE'S OPINION CONCERNING DARKNESS CON- 
SIDERED ... 114 

SECT. XV. DARKNESS TERRIBLE IN ITS OWN NATURE . . .115 

SECT. XVL WHY DARKNESS is TERRIBLE 116 

SECT. XVII. THE EFFECTS OF BLACKNESS 117 

SECT. XVIII. THE EFFECTS OF BLACKNESS MODERATED . . . 119 

SECT. XIX. THE PHYSICAL CAUSE OF LOVE 119 

SECT. XX. WHY SMOOTHNESS is BEAUTIFUL 120 

SECT. XXI. SWEETNESS, ITS NATURE 121 

SECT. XXII. SWEETNESS RELAXING 123 

SECT. XXIII. VARIATION, WHY BEAUTIFUL 124 

SECT. XXIV. CONCERNING SMALLNESS 125 

SECT. XXV. OF COLOUR 127 

PART V. 

SECTION I. OF WORDS 129 

SECT. II. THE COMMON EFFECTS OF POETRY, NOT BY RAISING 

IDEAS OF THINGS 129 

SECT. III. GENERAL WORDS BEFORE IDEAS 131 

SECT. IV. THE EFFECT OF WORDS 132 

SECT. V. EXAMPLES THAT WORDS MAY AFFECT WITHOUT 

RAISING IMAGES 133 

SECT. VI. POETRY NOT STRICTLY AN IMITATIVE ART . . . .137 
SECT. VII. How WORDS INFLUENCE THE PASSIONS .... 137 

REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE . . 143 

A LETTER FROM THE RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE 

TO A NOBLE LORD 381 



GENERAL INTRODUCTION 

EDMUND BURKE was born in Dublin in January, 1729, the son of an 
attorney. His father was Protestant, his mother Catholic; and though 
the son followed his father's religion, he was always tolerant of the other 
faith. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took his 
B.A. in 1748, coming to London two years later to study law. But his 
tastes were more literary than legal, and on giving up law, against his 
father's wish, before he was called to the bar, he was forced to resort 
to his pen for a livelihood. 

The first of his productions to gain notice was his "Vindication of 
Natural Society, by a late noble writer," an ironical imitation of the style 
and arguments of Bolingbroke, carried out with great skill. This 
pamphlet already showed Burke as a defender of the established order of 
things. In the same year, 1756, appeared his famous "Philosophical 
Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful." 

For five years, from 1759 to 1764, Burke's time was largely occupied 
by his duties as secretary to William Gerard Hamilton, practically his 
only publications being in the "Annual Register," with which he was 
connected for many years; yet in this period he found time to form in- 
timacies with the famous group containing, among others, Garrick, Sir 
Joshua Reynolds, and Dr. Johnson. During the short administration of 
Lord Rockingham, Burke acted as that nobleman's private secretary, and 
in January, 1766, he became a member of the House of Commons. Al- 
most at once he came into prominence as a speaker, displaying in the 
debates on American affairs, which then occupied the House, much inde- 
pendence and a disposition toward a wise expediency rather than a harsh 
insistence on theoretical sovereignty in dealing with the colonists. 

In 1768 Burke bought an estate in Buckinghamshire, for which he 
was never able to pay in full; and during most of his life he was in finan- 
cial difficulties. During the Grafton ministry his chief publication was 
his "Thoughts on the Present Discontents," in which he opposed the 
reviving influence of the court, and championed the interests of the 
people. American affairs continued to engage the attention of Parlia- 
ment, and throughout the struggle with the colonies Burke's voice was 
constantly raised on behalf of a policy of conciliation. With the aid of 
his disciple, C. J. Fox, he forced the retirement of Lord North, and when 
the Whigs came into power in 1782 he was made paymaster of the 

5 



6 INTRODUCTION 

forces. Aristocratic jealousy, and the difficulties of his own temperament, 
kept him out of a cabinet position then and later. 

The next great issue on which Burke employed his oratorical talents 
was the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Beginning in 1787, it dragged 
on for seven years, Burke closing his colossal labors with a nine days' 
speech. Though Hastings was acquitted, Burke's fervid indignation in 
supporting the impeachment, and the impeachment itself, were indica- 
tions of the growth of the sense of responsibility for the humane treat- 
ment of subject peoples. 

Meantime, the sympathy expressed in England for the French Revolu- 
tion in its earlier stages roused Burke to express his opposition in his 
famous "Reflections." In the debates which followed, Burke became 
separated from his friends Sheridan and Fox, and finally from his party, 
and he closed his political career in practical isolation. 

On his retirement from Parliament in 1794, the King granted him a 
pension which Pitt found means to increase, but even this well-earned 
reward he was not allowed to enjoy without the grudging assaults of 
enemies. His last days were spent in vigorous support of the war against 
France; and he died July 8, 1797. 

Burke never attained a political office in any degree proportioned to 
his ability and services, but he succeeded, nevertheless, in affecting pro- 
foundly the opinion of his time. Latterly the House of Commons tired 
of his fervid and imaginative eloquence, unwilling perhaps to make the 
effort necessary to follow his keen intellectual processes, but he found 
through his writings a larger audience. "Bacon alone excepted," says 
Buckle, Burke was "the greatest political thinker who has ever devoted 
himself to the practise of English politics." 



PREFACE 

I HAVE endeavoured to make this edition something more full and 
satisfactory than the first. I have sought with the utmost care, and read 
with equal attention, everything which has appeared in public against 
my opinions; I have taken advantage of the candid liberty of my friends; 
and if by these means I have been better enabled to discover the imper- 
fections of the work, the indulgence it has received, imperfect as it was, 
furnished me with a new motive to spare no reasonable pains for its 
improvement. Though I have not found sufficient reason, or what ap- 
peared to me sufficient, for making any material change in my theory, I 
have found it necessary in many places to explain, illustrate, and enforce 
it. I have prefixed an introductory discourse concerning Taste: it is a 
matter curious in itself; and it leads naturally enough to the principal 
inquiry. This, with the other explanations, has made the work con- 
siderably larger; and by increasing its bulk, has, I am afraid, added to 
its faults; so that, notwithstanding all my attention, it may stand in need 
of a yet greater share of indulgence than it required at its first appearance. 

They who are accustomed to studies of this nature will expect, and 
they will allow too for many faults. They know that many of the objects 
of our inquiry are in themselves obscure and intricate; and that many 
others have been rendered so by affected refinements or false learning; 
they know that there are many impediments in the subject, in the preju- 
dices of others, and even in our own, that render it a matter of no small 
difficulty to show in a clear light the genuine face of nature. They know 
that, whilst the mind is intent on the general scheme of things, some 
particular parts must be neglected; that we must often submit the style 
to the matter, and frequently give up the praise of elegance, satisfied 
with being clear. 

The characters of nature are legible, it is true; but they are not plain 
enough to enable those who run, to read them. We must make use of a 
cautious, I had almost said a timorous, method of proceeding. We must 
not attempt to fly, when we can scarcely pretend to creep. In considering 
any complex matter, we ought to examine every distinct ingredient in the 
composition, one by one; and reduce everything to the utmost simplicity; 
since the condition of our nature binds us to a strict law and very narrow 

7 



8 PREFACE 

limits. We ought afterwards to re-examine the principles by the effect 
of the composition, as well as the composition by that of the principles. 
We ought to compare our subject with things of a similar nature, and 
even with things of a contrary nature; for discoveries may be, and often 
are, made by the contrast, which would escape us on the single view. 
The greater number of the comparisons we make, the more general and 
the more certain our knowledge is like to prove, as built upon a more 
extensive and perfect induction. 

If an inquiry thus carefully conducted should fail at last of discovering 
the truth, it may answer an end perhaps as useful, in discovering to us 
the weakness of our own understanding. If it does not make us know- 
ing, it may make us modest. If it does not preserve us from error, it may 
at least from the spirit of error; and may make us cautious of pronouncing 
with positiveness or with haste, when so much labour may end in so 
much uncertainty. 

I could wish that, in examining this theory, the same method were 
pursued which I endeavoured to observe in forming it. The objections, in 
my opinion, ought to be proposed, either to the several principles as they 
are distinctly considered, or to the justness of the conclusion which is 
drawn from them. But it is common to pass over both the premises and 
conclusion in silence, and to produce, as an objection, some poetical 
passage which does not seem easily accounted for upon the principles I 
endeavour to establish. This manner of proceeding I should think very 
improper. The task would be infinite, if we could establish no principle 
until we had previously unravelled the complex texture of every image 
or description to be found in poets and orators. And though we should 
never be able to reconcile the effect of such images to our principles, this 
can never overturn the theory itself, whilst it is founded on certain and 
indisputable facts. A theory founded on experiment, and not assumed, is 
always good for so much as it explains. Our inability to push it indef- 
initely is no argument at all against it. This inability may be owing to 
our ignorance of some necessary mediums; to a want of proper applica- 
tion; to many other causes besides a defect in the principles we employ. 
In reality, the subject requires a much closer attention than we dare 
claim from our manner of treating it. 

If it should not appear on the face of the work, I must caution the 
reader against imagining that I intended a full dissertation on the Sub- 
lime and Beautiful. My inquiry went no farther than to the origin of 
these ideas. If the qualities which I have ranged under the head of the 
Sublime be all found consistent with each other, and all different from 



PREFACE 9 

those which I place under the head of Beauty; and if those which com- 
pose the class of the Beautiful have the same consistency with themselves, 
and the same opposition to those which are classed under the denomina- 
tion of Sublime, I am in little pain whether anybody chooses to follow 
the name I give them or not, provided he allows that what I dispose 
under different heads are in reality different things in nature. The use I 
make of the words may be blamed, as too confined or too extended; my 
meaning cannot well be misunderstood. 

To conclude: whatever progress may be made towards the discovery 
of truth in this matter, I do not repent the pains I have taken in it. The 
use of such inquiries may be very considerable. Whatever turns the soul 
inward on itself, tends to concentre its forces, and to fit it for greater 
and stronger flights of science. By looking into physical causes our minds 
are opened and enlarged; and in this pursuit, whether we take or 
whether we lose our game, the chase is certainly of service. Cicero, true 
as he was to the academic philosophy, and consequently led to reject the 
certainty of physical, as of every other kind of knowledge, yet freely 
confesses its great importance to the human understanding; "Est ani- 
morum ingeniorumque nostrorum naturale quoddam quasi pabulum 
consideratio contemplatioque natures'' If we can direct the lights we 
derive from such exalted speculations, upon the humbler field of the 
imagination, whilst we investigate the springs, and trace the courses of 
our passions, we may not only communicate to the taste a sort of philo- 
sophical solidity, but we may reflect back on the severer sciences some 
of the graces and elegancies of taste, without which the greatest pro- 
ficiency in those sciences will always have the appearance of something 
illiberal. 



ON TASTE 

INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE 

OM A superficial view, we may seem to differ very widely 
from each other in our reasonings, and ho less in our 
pleasures: but notwithstanding this difference, which I 
think to be rather apparent than real, it is probable that the standard 
both of reason and taste is the same in all human creatures. For if 
there were not some principles of judgment as well as of sentiment 
common to all mankind, no hold could possibly be taken either on 
their reason or their passions, sufficient to maintain the ordinary 
correspondence of life. It appears indeed to be generally acknowl- 
edged, that with regard to truth and falsehood there is something 
fixed. We find people in their disputes continually appealing to cer- 
tain tests and standards, which are allowed on all sides, and are sup- 
posed to be established in our common nature. But there is not the 
same obvious concurrence in any uniform or settled principles which 
relate to taste. It is even commonly supposed that this delicate and 
aerial faculty, which seems too volatile to endure even the chains of 
a definition, cannot be properly tried by any test, nor regulated by 
any standard. There is so continual a call for the exercise of the 
reasoning faculty, and it is so much strengthened by perpetual con- 
tention, that certain maxims of right reason seem to be tacitly settled 
amongst the most ignorant. The learned have improved on this 
rude science, and reduced those maxims into a system. If taste has 
not been so happily cultivated, it was not that the subject was barren, 
but that the labourers were few or negligent; for, to say the truth, 
there are not the same interesting motives to impel us to fix the one, 
which urge us to ascertain the other. And, after all, if men differ in 
their opinion concerning such matters, their difference is not at- 
tended with the same important consequences; else I make no doubt 
but that the logic of taste, if I may be allowed the expression, might 



12 EDMUND BURKE 

very possibly be as well digested, and we might come to discuss 
matters of this nature with as much certainty, as those which seem 
more immediately within the province of mere reason. And indeed, 
it is very necessary, at the entrance into such an inquiry as our pres- 
ent, to make this point as clear as possible; for if taste has no fixed 
principles, if the imagination is not affected according to some in- 
variable and certain laws, our labour is likely to be employed to very 
little purpose; as it must be judged a useless, if not an absurd under- 
taking, to lay down rules for caprice, and to set up for a legislator 
of whims and fancies. 

The term taste, like all other figurative terms, is not extremely 
accurate; the thing which we understand by it is far from a simple 
and determinate idea in the minds of most men, and it is therefore 
liable to uncertainty and confusion. I have no great opinion of a 
definition, the celebrated remedy for the cure of this disorder. For, 
when we define, we seem in danger of circumscribing nature within 
the bounds of our own notions, which we often take up by hazard, 
or embrace on trust, or form out of a limited and partial considera- 
tion of the object before us; instead of extending our ideas to take 
in all that nature comprehends, according to her manner of com- 
bining. We are limited in our inquiry by the strict laws to which 
we have submitted at our setting out. 

Circa vilem patulumque morabimur orbem, 
Unde pudor projerre pedem vetat aut opens lex. 

A definition may be very exact, and yet go but a very little way 
towards informing us of the nature of the thing defined; but let the 
virtue of a definition be what it will, in the order of things, it seems 
rather to follow than to precede our inquiry, of which it ought to be 
considered as the result. It must be acknowledged, that the methods 
of disquisition and teaching may be sometimes different, and on very 
good reason undoubtedly; but, for my part, I am convinced that the 
method of teaching which approaches most nearly to the method of 
investigation is incomparably the best; since, not content with serv- 
ing up a few barren and lifeless truths, it leads to the stock on which 
they grew; it tends to set the reader himself in the track of invention, 
and to direct him into those paths in which the author has made his 



ON TASTE 13 

own discoveries, if he should be so happy as to have made any that 
are valuable. 

But to cut off all pretence for cavilling, I mean by the word Taste 
no more than that faculty or those faculties of the mind, which are 
affected with, or which form a judgment of, the works of imagina- 
tion and the elegant arts. This is, I think, the most general idea 
of that word, and what is the least connected with any particular 
theory. And my point in this inquiry is, to find whether there are 
any principles, on which the imagination is affected, so common to 
all, so grounded and certain, as to supply the means of reasoning 
satisfactorily about them. And such principles of taste I fancy there 
are; however paradoxical it may seem to those, who on a superficial 
view imagine, that there is so great a diversity of tastes, both in kind 
and degree, that nothing can be more indeterminate. 

All the natural powers in man, which I know, that are conversant 
about external objects, are the senses; the imagination; and the judg- 
ment. And first with regard to the senses. We do and we must 
suppose, that as the conformation of their organs is nearly or alto- 
gether the same in all men, so the manner of perceiving external 
objects is in all men the same, or with little difference. We are satis- 
fied that what appears to be light to one eye, appears light to another; 
that what seems sweet to one palate, is sweet to another; that what is 
dark and bitter to this man, is likewise dark and bitter to that; and 
we conclude in the same manner of great and little, hard and soft, 
hot and cold, rough and smooth, and indeed of all the natural 
qualities and affections of bodies. If we suffer ourselves to imagine, 
that their senses present to different men different images of things, 
this sceptical proceeding will make every sort of reasoning on every 
subject vain and frivolous, even that sceptical reasoning itself which 
had persuaded us to entertain a doubt concerning the agreement of 
our perceptions. But as there will be little doubt that bodies present 
similar images to the whole species, it must necessarily be allowed, 
that the pleasures and the pains which every object excites in one 
man, it must raise in all mankind, whilst it operates naturally, 
simply, and by its proper powers only; for if we deny this, we must 
imagine that the same cause, operating in the same manner, and on 
subjects of the same kind, will produce different effects; which would 



14 EDMUND BURKE 

be highly absurd. Let us first consider this point in the sense of taste, 
and the rather, as the faculty in question has taken its name from 
that sense. All men are agreed to call vinegar sour, honey sweet, and 
aloes bitter; and as they are all agreed in finding these qualities in 
those objects, they do not in the least differ concerning their effects 
with regard to pleasure and pain. They all concur in calling sweet- 
ness pleasant, and sourness and bitterness unpleasant. Here there is 
no diversity in their sentiments; and that there is not, appears fully 
from the consent of all men in the metaphors which are taken from 
the sense of taste. A sour temper, bitter expressions, bitter curses, 
a bitter fate, are terms well and strongly understood by all. And we 
are altogether as well understood when we say, a sweet disposition, 
a sweet person, a sweet condition, and the like. It is confessed, that 
custom and some other causes have made many deviations from the 
natural pleasures or pains which belong to these several tastes: but 
then the power of distinguishing between the natural and the ac- 
quired relish remains to the very last. A man frequently comes to 
prefer the taste of tobacco to that of sugar, and the flavour of vinegar 
to that of milk; but this makes no confusion in tastes, whilst he is 
sensible that the tobacco and vinegar are not sweet, and whilst he 
knows that habit alone has reconciled his palate to these alien 
pleasures. Even with such a person we may speak, and with suffi- 
cient precision, concerning tastes. But should any man be found who 
declares, that to him tobacco has a taste like sugar, and that he 
cannot distinguish between milk and vinegar; or that tobacco and 
vinegar are sweet, milk bitter, and sugar sour; we immediately con- 
clude that the organs of this man are out of order, and that his 
palate is utterly vitiated. We are as far from conferring with such a 
person upon tastes, as from reasoning concerning the relations of 
quantity with one who should deny that all the parts together were 
equal to the whole. We do not call a man of this kind wrong in 
his notions, but absolutely mad. Exceptions of this sort, in either 
way, do not at all impeach our general rule, nor make us conclude 
that men have various principles concerning the relations of quan- 
tity or the taste of things. So that when it is said, taste cannot be 
disputed, it can only mean, that no one can strictly answer what 
pleasure or pain some particular man may find from the taste of 



ON TASTE 15 

some particular thing. This indeed cannot be disputed; but we 
may dispute, and with sufficient clearness too, concerning the things 
which are naturally pleasing or disagreeable to the sense. But when 
we talk of any peculiar or acquired relish, then we must know the 
habits, the prejudices, or the distempers o this particular man, and 
we must draw our conclusion from those. 

This agreement of mankind is not confined to the taste solely. 
The principle of pleasure derived from sight is the same in all. 
Light is more pleasing than darkness. Summer, when the earth is 
clad in green, when the heavens are serene and bright, is more 
agreeable than winter, when everything makes a different appear- 
ance. I never remember that anything beautiful, whether a man, 
a beast, a bird, or a plant, was ever shown, though it were to a 
hundred people, that they did not all immediately agree that it was 
beautiful, though some might have thought that it fell short of their 
expectation, or that other things were still finer. I believe no man 
thinks a goose to be more beautiful than a swan, or imagines that 
what they call a Friesland hen excels a peacock. It must be ob- 
served, too, that the pleasures of the sight are not near so compli- 
cated, and confused, and altered by unnatural habits and associa- 
tions, as the pleasures of the taste are; because the pleasures of the 
sight more commonly acquiesce in themselves; and are not so often 
altered by considerations which are independent of the sight itself. 
But things do not spontaneously present themselves to the palate 
as they do to the sight; they are generally applied to it, either as 
food or as medicine; and, from the qualities which they possess for 
nutritive or medicinal purposes, they often form the palate by de- 
grees, and by force of these associations. Thus opium is pleasing to 
Turks, on account of the agreeable delirium it produces. Tobacco 
is the delight of Dutchmen, as it diffuses a torpor and pleasing 
stupefaction. Fermented spirits please our common people, because 
they banish care, and all consideration of future or present evils. 
All of these would lie absolutely neglected if their properties had 
originally gone no further than the taste; but all these together, 
with tea and coffee, and some other things, have passed from the 
apothecary's shop to our tables, and were taken for health long 
before they were thought of for pleasure. The effect of the drug has 



1 6 EDMUND BURKE 

made us use it frequently; and frequent use, combined with the 
agreeable effect, has made the taste itself at last agreeable. But this 
does not in the least perplex our reasoning; because we distinguish 
to the last the acquired from the natural relish. In describing the 
taste of an unknown fruit, you would scarcely say that it had a sweet 
and pleasant flavour like tobacco, opium, or garlic, although you 
spoke to those who were in the constant use of these drugs, and 
had great pleasure in them. There is in all men a sufficient remem- 
brance of the original natural causes of pleasure, to enable them to 
bring all things offered to their senses to that standard, and to regu- 
late their feelings and opinions by it. Suppose one who had so 
vitiated his palate as to take more pleasure in the taste of opium than 
in that of butter or honey, to be presented with a bolus of squills; 
there is hardly any doubt but that he would prefer the butter or 
honey to this nauseous morsel, or to any bitter drug to which he 
had not been accustomed; which proves that his palate was natu- 
rally like that of other men in all things, that it is still like the palate 
of other men in many things, and only vitiated in some particular 
points. For in judging of any new thing, even of a taste similar to 
that which he has been formed by habit to like, he finds his palate 
affected in a natural manner, and on the common principles. Thus 
the pleasure of all the senses, of the sight, and even of the taste, that 
most ambiguous of the senses, is the same in all, high and low, 
learned and unlearned. 

Besides the ideas, with their annexed pains and pleasures, which 
are presented by the sense; the mind of man possesses a sort of cre- 
ative power of its own; either in representing at pleasure the images 
of things in the order and manner in which they were received by 
the senses, or in combining those images in a new manner, and 
according to a different order. This power is called imagination; 
and to this belongs whatever is called wit, fancy, invention, and 
the like. But it must be observed, that this power of the imagina- 
tion is incapable of producing anything absolutely new; it can only 
vary the disposition of those ideas which it has received from the 
senses. Now the imagination is the most extensive province of 
pleasure and pain, as it is the region of our fears and our hopes, and 
of all our passions that are connected with them; and whatever is 



ON TASTE 17 

calculated to affect the imagination with these commanding ideas, 
by force of any original natural impression, must have the same 
power pretty equally over all men. For since the imagination is 
only the representation of the senses, it can only be pleased or dis- 
pleased with the images, from the same principle on which the 
sense is pleased or displeased with the realities; and consequently 
there must be just as close an agreement in the imaginations as in 
the senses of men. A little attention will convince us that this must 
of necessity be the case. 

But in the imagination, besides the pain or pleasure arising from 
the properties of the natural object, a pleasure is perceived from 
the resemblance which the imitation has to the original: the imagi- 
nation, I conceive, can have no pleasure but what results from one 
or other of these causes. And these causes operate pretty uniformly 
upon all men, because they operate by principles in nature, and 
which are not derived from any particular habits or advantages. Mr. 
Locke very justly and finely observes of wit, that it is chiefly con- 
versant in tracing resemblances: he remarks, at the same time, that 
the business of judgment is rather in finding differences. It may 
perhaps appear, on this supposition, that there is no material dis- 
tinction between the wit and the judgment, as they both seem to 
result from different operations of the same faculty of comparing. 
But in reality, whether they are or are not dependent on the same 
power of the mind, they differ so very materially in many re- 
spects, that a perfect union of wit and judgment is one of the rarest 
things in the world. When two distinct objects are unlike to each 
other, it is only what we expect; things are in their common way; 
and therefore they make no impression on the imagination: but 
when two distinct objects have a resemblance, we are struck, we 
attend to them, and we are pleased. The mind of man has naturally 
a far greater alacrity and satisfaction in tracing resemblances than 
in searching for differences: because by making resemblances we 
produce new images; we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock; 
but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagina- 
tion; the task itself is more severe and irksome, and what pleasure 
we derive from it is something of a negative and indirect nature. 
A piece of news is told me in the morning; this, merely as a piece of 



1 8 EDMUND BURKE 

news, as a fact added to my stock, gives me some pleasure. In the 
evening I find there was nothing in it. What do I gain by this, but 
the dissatisfaction to find that I have been imposed upon? Hence 
it is that men are much more naturally inclined to belief than to 
incredulity. And it is upon this principle, that the most ignorant 
and barbarous nations have frequently excelled in similitudes, com- 
parisons, metaphors, and allegories, who have been weak and back- 
ward in distinguishing and sorting their ideas. And it is for a 
reason of this kind, that Homer and the Oriental writers, though 
very fond of similitudes, and though they often strike out such as 
are truly admirable, seldom take care to have them exact; that is, 
they are taken with the general resemblance, they paint it strongly, 
and they take no notice of the difference which may be found 
between the things compared. 

Now, as the pleasure of resemblance is that which principally 
flatters the imagination, all men are nearly equal in this point, as 
far as their knowledge of the things represented or compared extends. 
The principle of this knowledge is very much accidental, as it de- 
pends upon experience and observation, and not on the strength or 
weakness of any natural faculty; and it is from this difference in 
knowledge, that what we commonly, though with no great exact- 
ness, call a difference in taste proceeds. A man to whom sculpture 
is new, sees a barber's block, or some ordinary piece of statuary, he 
is immediately struck and pleased, because he sees something like 
a human figure; and, entirely taken up with this likeness, he does 
not at all attend to its defects. No person, I believe, at the first time 
of seeing a piece of imitation ever did. Some time after, we sup- 
pose that this novice lights upon a more artificial work of the same 
nature; he now begins to look with contempt on what he admired 
at first; not that he admired it even then for its unlikeness to a 
man, but for that general, though inaccurate, resemblance which it 
bore to the human figure. What he admired at different times in 
these so different figures, is strictly the same; and though his knowl- 
edge is improved, his taste is not altered. Hitherto his mistake was 
from a want of knowledge in art; and this arose from his inex- 
perience; but he may be still deficient from a want of knowledge 
in nature. For it is possible that the man in question may stop 



ON TASTE 19 

here, and that the masterpiece of a great hand may please him no 
more than the middling performance of a vulgar artist: and this 
not for want of better or higher relish, but because all men do not 
observe with sufficient accuracy on the human figure to enable 
them to judge properly of an imitation of it. And that the critical 
taste does not depend upon a superior principle in men, but upon 
superior knowledge, may appear from several instances. The story 
of the ancient painter and the shoemaker is very well known. The 
shoemaker set the painter right with regard to some mistakes he 
had made in the shoe of one of his figures, and which the painter, 
who had not made such accurate observations on shoes, and was 
content with a general resemblance, had never observed. But this 
was no impeachment to the taste of the painter; it only showed some 
want of knowledge in the art of making shoes. Let us imagine, 
that an anatomist had come into the painter's working-room. His 
piece is in general well done, the figure in question in a good atti- 
tude, and the parts well adjusted to their various movements; yet 
the anatomist, critical in his art, may observe the swell of some 
muscle not quite just in the peculiar action of the figure. Here the 
anatomist observes what the painter had not observed; and he 
passes by what the shoemaker had remarked. But a want of the 
last critical knowledge in anatomy no more reflected on -the natural 
good taste of the painter or of any common observer of his piece, 
than the want of an exact knowledge in the formation of a shoe. 
A fine piece of a decollated head of St. John the Baptist was shown 
to a Turkish emperor; he praised many things, but he observed 
one defect; he observed that the skin did not shrink from the 
wounded part of the neck. The sultan on this occasion, though his 
observation was very just, discovered no more natural taste than 
the painter who executed this piece, or than a thousand European 
connoisseurs, who probably never would have made the same ob- 
servation. His Turkish Majesty had indeed been well acquainted 
with that terrible spectacle, which the others could only have repre- 
sented in their imagination. On the subject of their dislike there is 
a difference between all these people, arising from the different 
kinds and degrees of their knowledge; but there is something in 
common to the painter, the shoemaker, the anatomist, and the 



2O EDMUND BURKE 

Turkish emperor, the pleasure arising from a natural object, so far 
as each perceives it justly imitated; the satisfaction in seeing an 
agreeable figure; the sympathy proceeding from a striking and 
affecting incident. So far as taste is natural, it is nearly common 
to all. 

In poetry, and other pieces of imagination, the same parity may be 
observed. It is true, that one man is charmed with Don Bellianis, 
and reads Virgil coldly; whilst another is transported with the 
Eneid, and leaves Don Bellianis to children. These two men seem 
to have a taste very different from each other; but in fact they differ 
very little. In both these pieces, which inspire such opposite senti- 
ments, a tale exciting admiration is told; both are full of action, 
both are passionate; in both are voyages, battles, triumphs, and con- 
tinual changes of fortune. The admirer of Don Bellianis perhaps 
does not understand the refined language of the Eneid, who, if it 
was degraded into the style of the Pilgrim's Progress, might feel it 
in all its energy, on the same principle which made him an admirer 
of Don Bellianis. 

In his favourite author he is not shocked with the continual 
breaches of probability, the confusion of times, the offences against 
manners, the trampling upon geography; for he knows nothing of 
geography and chronology, and he has never examined the grounds 
of probability. He perhaps reads of a shipwreck on the coast of 
Bohemia; wholly taken up with so interesting an event, and only 
solicitous for the fate of his hero, he is not in the least troubled at 
this extravagant blunder. For why should he be shocked at a ship- 
wreck on the coast of Bohemia, who does not know but that Bo- 
hemia may be an island in the Atlantic ocean? and after all, what 
reflection is this on the natural good taste of the person here sup- 
posed ? 

So far then as taste belongs to the imagination, its principle is 
the same in all men; there is no difference in the manner of their 
being affected, nor in the causes of the affection; but in the degree 
there is a difference, which arises from two causes principally; either 
from a greater degree of natural sensibility, or from a closer and 
longer attention to the object. To illustrate this by the procedure of 
the senses, in which the same difference is found, let us suppose a 



ON TASTE 21 

very smooth marble table to be set before two men; they both per- 
ceive it to be smooth; and they are both pleased with it because of 
this quality. So far they agree. But suppose another, and after that 
another table, the latter still smoother than the former, to be set 
before them. It is now very probable that these men, who are so 
agreed upon what is smooth, and in the pleasure from thence, will 
disagree when they come to settle which table has the advantage in 
point of polish. Here is indeed the great difference between tastes, 
when men come to compare the excess or diminution of things which 
are judged by degree and not by measure. Nor is it easy, when such 
a difference arises, to settle the point, if the excess or diminution be 
not glaring. If we differ in opinion about two quantities, we can 
have recourse to a common measure, which may decide the question 
with the utmost exactness; and this, I take it, is what gives mathe- 
matical knowledge a greater certainty than any other. But in things 
whose excess is not judged by greater or smaller, as smoothness and 
roughness, hardness and softness, darkness and light, the shades of 
colours, all these are very easily distinguished when the difference is 
any way considerable, but not when it is minute, for want of some 
common measures, which perhaps may never come to be discovered. 
In these nice cases, supposing the acuteness of the sense equal, the 
greater attention and habit in such things will have the advantage. 
In the question about the tables, the marble-polisher will unques- 
tionably determine the most accurately. But notwithstanding this 
want of a common measure for settling many disputes relative to 
the senses, and their representative the imagination, we find that the 
principles are the same in all, and that there is no disagreement until 
we come to examine into the pre-eminence or difference of things, 
which brings us within the province of the judgment. 

So long as we are conversant with the sensible qualities of things, 
hardly any more than the imagination seems concerned; little more 
also than the imagination seems concerned when the passions are 
represented, because by the force of natural sympathy they are felt 
in all men without any recourse to reasoning, and their justness 
recognized in every breast. Love, grief, fear, anger, joy, all these 
passions have, in their turns, affected every mind; and they do not 
affect it in an arbitrary or casual manner, but upon certain, natural, 



22 EDMUND BURKE 

and uniform principles. But as many of the works of imagination 
are not confined to the representation of sensible objects, nor to 
efforts upon the passions, but extend themselves to the manners, the 
characters, the actions, and designs of men, their relations, their vir- 
tues, and vices, they come within the province of the judgment, 
which is improved by attention, and by the habit of reasoning. All 
these make a very considerable part of what are considered as the 
objects of taste; and Horace sends us to the schools of philosophy 
and the world for our instruction in them. Whatever certainty is to 
be acquired in morality and the science of life; just the same degree 
of certainty have we in what relates to them in the works of imi- 
tation. Indeed it is for the most part in our skill in manners, and 
in the observances of time and place, and of decency in general, 
which is only to be learned in those schools to which Horace recom- 
mends us, that what is called taste, by way of distinction, consists; 
and which is in reality no other than a more refined judgment. On 
the whole it appears to me, that what is called taste, in its most 
general acceptation, is not a simple idea, but is partly made up of a 
perception of the primary pleasures of sense, of the secondary pleas- 
ures of the imagination, and of the conclusions of the reasoning 
faculty, concerning the various relations pf these, and concerning the 
human passions, manners, and actions. All this is requisite to form 
taste, and the ground-work of all these is the same in the human 
mind; for as the senses are the great originals of all our ideas, and 
consequently of all our pleasures, if they are not uncertain and arbi- 
trary, the whole ground-work of taste is common to all, and there- 
fore there is a sufficient foundation for a conclusive reasoning on 
these matters. 

Whilst we consider taste merely according to its nature and spe- 
cies, we shall find its principles entirely uniform; but the degree in 
which these principles prevail in the several individuals of mankind, 
is altogether as different as the principles themselves are similar. 
For sensibility and judgment, which are the qualities that compose 
what we commonly call a taste, vary exceedingly in various people. 
From a defect in the former of these qualities arises a want of taste; 
a weakness in the latter constitutes a wrong or a bad one. There are 
some men formed with feelings so blunt, with tempers so cold and 



ON TASTE 23 

phlegmatic, that they can hardly be said to be awake during the 
whole course of their lives. Upon such persons the most striking ob- 
jects make but a faint and obscure impression. There are others 
so continually in the agitation of gross and merely sensual pleasures, 
or so occupied in the low drudgery of avarice, or so heated in the 
chase of honours and distinction, that their minds, which had been 
used continually to the storms of these violent and tempestuous pas- 
sions, can hardly be put in motion by the delicate and refined play 
of the imagination. These men, though from a different cause, be- 
come as stupid and insensible as the former; but whenever either 
of these happen to be struck with any natural elegance or great- 
ness, or with these qualities in any work of art, they are moved upon 
the same principle. 

The cause of a wrong taste is a defect of judgment. And this may 
arise from a natural weakness of understanding, (in whatever the 
strength of that faculty may consist,) or, which is much more com- 
monly the case, it may arise from a want of proper and well-directed 
exercise, which alone can make it strong and ready. Besides that 
ignorance, inattention, prejudice, rashness, levity, obstinacy, in short, 
all those passions, and all those vices, which pervert the judgment in 
other matters, prejudice it no less in this its more refined and ele- 
gant province. These causes produce different opinions upon every- 
thing which is an object of the understanding, without inducing us 
to suppose that there are no settled principles of reason. And indeed, 
on the whole, one may observe that there is rather less difference 
upon matters of taste among mankind, than upon most of those 
which depend upon the naked reason; and that men are far better 
agreed on the excellency of a description in Virgil, than on the truth 
or falsehood of a theory of Aristotle. 

A rectitude of judgment in the arts, which may be called a good 
taste, does in a great measure depend upon sensibility; because, if 
the mind has no bent to the pleasures of the imagination, it will 
never apply itself sufficiently to works of that species to acquire a 
competent knowledge in them. But, though a degree of sensibility 
is requisite to form a good judgment, yet a good judgment does not 
necessarily arise from a quick sensibility of pleasure; it frequently 
happens that a very poor judge, merely by force of a greater com- 



24 EDMUND BURKE 

plexional sensibility, is more affected by a very poor piece, than the 
best judge by the most perfect; for as everything new, extraordinary, 
grand, or passionate, is well calculated to affect such a person, and 
that the faults do not affect him, his pleasure is more pure and un- 
mixed; and as it is merely a pleasure of the imagination, it is much 
higher than any which is derived from a rectitude of the judgment; 
the judgment is for the greater part employed in throwing stum- 
bling-blocks in the way of the imagination, in dissipating the scenes 
of its enchantment, and in tying us down to the disagreeable yoke 
of our reason: for almost the only pleasure that men have in judging 
better than others, consists in a sort of conscious pride and superior- 
ity, which arises from thinking rightly; but then, this is an indirect 
pleasure, a pleasure which does not immediately result from the ob- 
ject which is under contemplation. In the morning of our days, 
when the senses are unworn and tender, when the whole man is 
awake in every part, and the gloss of novelty fresh upon all the 
objects that surround us, how lively at that time are our sensations, 
but how false and inaccurate the judgments we form of things? I 
despair of ever receiving the same degree of pleasure from the most 
excellent performances of genius, which I felt at that age from 
pieces which my present judgment regards as trifling and contempt- 
ible. Every trivial cause of pleasure is apt to affect the man of too 
sanguine a complexion: his appetite is too keen to suffer his taste 
to be delicate; and he is in all respects what Ovid says of himself in 
love, 

Molle meum levibus cor est violabile tells, 
Et semper causa est, cur ego semper amem. 

One of this character can never be a refined judge; never what the 
comic poet calls elegans jormarum spectator. The excellence and 
force of a composition must always be imperfectly estimated from 
its effect on the minds of any, except we know the temper and 
character of those minds. The most powerful effects of poetry and 
music have been displayed, and perhaps are still displayed, where 
these arts are but in a very low and imperfect state. The rude hearer 
is affected by the principles which operate in these arts even in their 
rudest condition; and he is not skilful enough to perceive the 



ON TASTE 25 

defects. But as the arts advance towards their perfection, the science 
of criticism advances with equal pace, and the pleasure of judges 
is frequently interrupted by the faults which are discovered in the 
most finished compositions. 

Before I leave this subject I cannot help taking notice of an opin- 
ion which many persons entertain, as if the taste were a separate 
faculty of the mind, and distinct from the judgment and imagina- 
tion; a species of instinct, by which we are struck naturally, and 
at the first glance, without any previous reasoning, with the ex- 
cellencies, or the defects, of a composition. So far as the imagina- 
tion and the passions are concerned, I believe it true, that the reason 
is little consulted; but where disposition, where decorum, where con- 
gruity are concerned, in short, wherever the best taste differs from 
the worst, I am convinced that the understanding operates, and 
nothing else; and its operation is in reality far from being always 
sudden, or, when it is sudden, it is often far from being right. Men 
of the best taste, by consideration, come frequently to change these 
early and precipitate judgments, which the mind, from its aversion 
to neutrality and doubt, loves to form on the spot. It is known that 
the taste (whatever it is) is improved exactly as we improve our 
judgment, by extending our knowledge, by a steady attention to 
our object, and by frequent exercise. They who have not taken 
these methods, if their taste decides quickly, it is always uncer- 
tainly; and their quickness is owing to their presumption and rash- 
ness, and not to any sudden irradiation, that in a moment dispels 
all darkness from their minds. But they who have cultivated that 
species of knowledge which makes the object of taste, by degrees, 
and habitually, attain not only a soundness, but a readiness of judg- 
ment, as men do by the same methods on all other occasions. At 
first they are obliged to spell, but at least they read with ease and 
with celerity; but this celerity of its operation is no proof that the 
taste is a distinct faculty. Nobody, I believe, has attended the course 
of a discussion, which turned upon matters within the sphere of 
mere naked reason, but must have observed the extreme readiness 
with which the whole process of the argument is carried on, the 
grounds discovered, the objections raised and answered, and the con- 
clusions drawn from premises, with a quickness altogether as great 



26 EDMUND BURKE 

as the taste can be supposed to work with; and yet where nothing 
but plain reason either is or can be suspected to operate. To multi- 
ply principles for every different appearance, is useless, and un- 
philosophical too in a high degree. 

This matter might be pursued much further; but it is not the 
extent of the subject which must prescribe our bounds, for what 
subject does not branch out to infinity? It is the nature of our 
particular scheme, and the single point of view in which we con- 
sider it, which ought to put a stop to our researches. 



A PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY 

INTO THE ORIGIN OF OUR IDEAS 
OF 

THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

WITH SEVERAL OTHER ADDITIONS 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

BURKE'S eminence in the field of aesthetic theory is not comparable to 
the distinction he achieved as a statesman, orator, and political thinker; 
yet it is probable that, in England especially, his political writings have 
unduly overshadowed his contributions to the theory of the beautiful. 

His "Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime 
and Beautiful: with an Introductory Discourse concerning Taste" was 
published in its first form in 1756, and in its enlarged form in 1757; but 
it is understood that it was composed some years earlier. "It was a 
vigorous enlargement of the principle," says Morley, "which Addison had 
not long before timidly illustrated, that critics of art seek its principles 
in the wrong place, so long as they limit their search to poems, pictures, 
engravings, statues, and buildings, instead of first arranging the senti- 
ments and faculties in man to which art makes its appeal. Addison's 
treatment was slight and merely literary; Burke dealt boldly with his 
subject on the basis of the most scientific psychology that was then within 
his reach. To approach it on the psychological side at all, was to make 
a distinct and remarkable advance in the method of the inquiry which 
he had taken in hand." 

The influence of the treatise outside of England was considerable and 
important. Lessing undertook to translate it, and many instances have 
been pointed out in which his "Laocob'n" is indebted to Burke; so that 
Burke ranks among the sources of that fertilising contribution to the 
mind of the great German thinker which he was always eager to 
acknowledge. 



THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 
PART I 

SECTION i. NOVELTY 

THE first and the simplest emotion which we discover in the 
human mind, is Curiosity. By curiosity, I mean whatever 
desire we have for, or whatever pleasure we take in, nov- 
elty. We see children perpetually running from place to place, to 
hunt out something new: they catch with great eagerness, and with 
very little choice, at whatever comes before them; their attention is 
engaged by everything, because everything has, in that stage of 
life, the charm of novelty to recommend it. But as those things, 
which engage us merely by their novelty, cannot attach us for any 
length of time, curiosity is the most superficial of all the affections; 
it changes its object perpetually, it has an appetite which is very 
sharp, but very easily satisfied; and it has always an appearance of 
giddiness, restlessness, and anxiety. Curiosity, from its nature, is a 
very active principle; it quickly runs over the greatest part of its 
objects, and soon exhausts the variety which is commonly to be met 
with in nature; the same things make frequent returns, and they 
return with less and less of any agreeable effect. In short, the oc- 
currences of life, by the time we come to know it a little, would 
be incapable of affecting the mind with any other sensations than 
those of loathing and weariness, if many things were not adapted to 
affect the mind by means of other powers besides novelty in them, 
and of other passions besides curiosity in ourselves. These powers 
and passions shall be considered in their place. But whatever these 
powers are, or upon what principle soever they affect the mind, it 
is absolutely necessary that they should not be exerted in those things 
which a daily and vulgar use have brought into a stale unaffecting 
familiarity. Some degree of novelty must be one of the materials in 

29 



3O EDMUND BURKE 

every instrument which works upon the mind; and curiosity blends 
itself more or less with all our passions. 



SECT. II. PAIN AND PLEASURE 



IT seems then necessary towards moving the passions of people 
advanced in life to any considerable degree, that the objects designed 
for that purpose, besides their being in some measure new, should 
be capable of exciting pain or pleasure from other causes. Pain and 
pleasure are simple ideas, incapable of definition. People are not 
liable to be mistaken in their feelings, but they are very frequently 
wrong in the names they give them, and in their reasonings about 
them. Many are of the opinion, that pain arises necessarily from 
the removal of some pleasure; as they think pleasure does from the 
ceasing or diminution of some pain. For my part, I am rather in- 
clined to imagine, that pain and pleasure, in their most simple and 
natural manner of affecting, are each of a positive nature, and by no 
means necessarily dependent on each other for their existence. The 
human mind is often, and I think it is for the most part, in a state 
neither of pain nor pleasure, which I call a state of indifference. 
When I am carried from this state into a state of actual pleasure, it 
does not appear necessary that I should pass through the medium of 
any sort of pain. If in such a state of indifference, or ease, or tran- 
quillity, or call it what you please, you were to be suddenly enter- 
tained with a concert of music; or suppose some object of a fine 
shape, and bright, lively colours, to be presented before you; or 
imagine your smell is gratified with the fragrance of a rose; or if 
without any previous thirst you were to drink of some pleasant kind 
of wine, or to taste of some sweetmeat without being hungry; in all 
the several senses, of hearing, smelling and tasting, you undoubt- 
edly find a pleasure; yet if I inquire into the state of your mind 
previous to these gratifications, you will hardly tell me that they 
found you in any kind of pain; or, having satisfied these several 
senses with their several pleasures, will you say that any pain has 
succeeded, though the pleasure is absolutely over? Suppose on the 
other hand, a man in the same state of indifference, to receive a 
violent blow, or to drink of some bitter potion, or to have his ears 
wounded with some harsh and grating sound; here is no removal 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 3! 

of pleasure; and yet here is felt in every sense which is affected, a 
pain very distinguishable. It may be said, perhaps, that the pain 
in these cases had its rise from the removal of the pleasure which 
the man enjoyed before, though that pleasure was of so low a de- 
gree as to be perceived only by the removal. But this seems to me a 
subtilty that is not discoverable in nature. For if, previous to the 
pain, I do not feel any actual pleasure, I have no reason to judge 
that any such thing exists; since pleasure is only pleasure as it is 
felt. The same may be said of pain, and with equal reason. I can 
never persuade myself that pleasure and pain are mere relations, 
which can only exist as they are contrasted; but I think I can dis- 
cern clearly that there are positive pains and pleasures, which do 
not at all depend upon each other. Nothing is more certain to my 
own feelings than this. There is nothing which I can distinguish 
in my mind with more clearness than the three states, of indiffer- 
ence, of pleasure, and of pain. Every one of these I can perceive 
without any sort of idea of its relation to anything else. Caius is 
afflicted with a fit of the colic; this man is actually in pain; stretch 
Caius upon the rack, he will feel a much greater pain: but does 
this pain of the rack arise from the removal of any pleasure? or 
is the fit of the colic a pleasure or a pain, just as we are pleased to 
consider it? 

SECT. III. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE REMOVAL OF PAIN, AND 
POSITIVE PLEASURE 

WE shall carry this proposition yet a step farther. We shall ven- 
ture to propose, that pain and pleasure are not only not necessarily 
dependent for their existence on their mutual diminution or re- 
moval, but that, in reality, the diminution or ceasing of pleasure 
does not operate like positive pain; and that the removal or diminu- 
tion of pain, in its effect, has very little resemblance to positive 
pleasure. 1 The former of these propositions will, I believe, be much 
more readily allowed than the latter; because it is very evident that 
pleasure, when it has run its career, sets us down very nearly where 
it found us. Pleasure of every kind quickly satisfies; and when it 

! Mr. Locke [Essay on the Human Understanding, 1. ii. c. 20, sect. 16] thinks that 
the removal or lessening of a pain is considered and operates as a pleasure, and the 
loss or diminishing of pleasure as a pain. It is this opinion which we consider here. 



32 EDMUND BURKE 

is over, we relapse into indifference, or rather we fall into a soft 
tranquillity, which is tinged with the agreeable colour of the former 
sensation. I own it is not at first view so apparent, that the removal 
of a great pain does not resemble positive pleasure; but let us recol- 
lect in what state we have found our minds upon escaping some im- 
minent danger, or on being released from the severity of some cruel 
pain. We have on such occasions found, if I am not much mistaken, 
the temper of our minds in a tenor very remote from that which at- 
tends the presence of positive pleasure; we have found them in a 
state of much sobriety, impressed with a sense of awe, in a sort of 
tranquillity shadowed with horror. The fashion of the countenance 
and the gesture of the body on such occasions is so correspondent 
to this state of mind, that any person, a stranger to the cause of 
the appearance, would rather judge us under some consternation, 
than in the enjoyment of anything like positive pleasure. 

'fis 6' or' o.v avdp' arrj irvKivrj Xd/3fl, oar' kvl irarpu 
3>cora KaTaKTeivas, a\\a)v eiKero dfj/jLov, 
'Avdpos es a^vftov, 0ctju/Sos 5' ex ct ewro/wSciwras. 

Iliad, a 480. 

As when a wretch, who, conscious of his crime, 
Pursued for murder from his native clime, 
Just gains some frontier, breathless, pale, amazed; 
All gaze, all wonder! 

This striking appearance of the man whom Homer supposes to 
have just escaped an imminent danger, the sort of mixed passion 
of terror and surprise, with which he affects the spectators, paints 
very strongly the manner in which we find ourselves affected upon 
occasions any way similar. For when we have suffered from any 
violent emotion, the mind naturally continues in something like the 
same condition, after the cause which first produced it has ceased to 
operate. The tossing of the sea remains after the storm; and when 
this remain of horror has entirely subsided, all the passion, which 
the accident raised, subsides along with it; and the mind returns to 
its usual state of indifference. In short, pleasure (I mean anything 
either in the inward sensation, or in the outward appearance, like 
pleasure from a positive cause) has never, I imagine, its origin from 
the removal of pain or danger. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 33 

SECT. IV. OF DELIGHT AND PLEASURE AS OPPOSED TO EACH OTHER 

BUT shall we therefore say, that the removal of pain or its diminu- 
tion is always simply painful? or affirm that the cessation or the 
lessening of pleasure is always attended itself with a pleasure? By 
no means. What I advance is no more than this; first, that there are 
pleasures and pains of a positive and independent nature; and, sec- 
ondly, that the feeling which results from the ceasing or diminution 
of pain does not bear a sufficient resemblance to positive pleasure, 
to have it considered as of the same nature, or to entitle it to be 
known by the same name; and, thirdly, that upon the same princi- 
ple the removal or qualification of pleasure has no resemblance to 
positive pain. It is certain that the former feeling (the removal or 
moderation of pain) has something in it far from distressing or 
disagreeable in its nature. This feeling, in many cases so agreeable, 
but in all so different from positive pleasure, has no name which I 
know; but that hinders not its being a very real one, and very differ- 
ent from all others. It is most certain that every species of satisfac- 
tion or pleasure, how different soever in its manner of affecting, is 
of a positive nature in the mind of him who feels it. The affection 
is undoubtedly positive; but the cause may be, as in this case it cer- 
tainly is, a sort of Privation. And it is very reasonable that we should 
distinguish by some term two things so distinct in nature, as a 
pleasure that is such simply, and without any relation, from that 
pleasure which cannot exist without a relation, and that too a rela- 
tion to pain. Very extraordinary it would be, if these affections, so 
distinguishable in their causes, so different in their effects, should 
be confounded with each other, because vulgar use has ranged them 
under the same general title. Whenever I have occasion to speak 
of this species of relative pleasure, I call it Delight; and I shall take 
the best care I can to use that word in no other sense. I am satisfied 
the word is not commonly used in this appropriated signification; 
but I thought it better to take up a word already known, and to 
limit its signification, than to introduce a new one, which would 
not perhaps incorporate so well with the language. I should never 
have presumed the least alteration in our words, if the nature of 
the language, framed for the purposes of business rather than those 



34 EDMUND BURKE 

of philosophy, and the nature of my subject, that leads me out of the 
common track of discourse, did not in a manner necessitate me to 
it. I shall make use of this liberty with all possible caution. As I 
make use of the word Delight to express the sensation which accom- 
panies the removal of pain or danger; so when I speak of positive 
pleasure, I shall for the most part call it simply Pleasure. 

SECT. V. JOY AND GRIEF 

IT must be observed that the cessation of pleasure affects the mind 
three ways. If it simply ceases, after having continued a proper 
time, the effect is indifference; if it be abruptly broken off, there en- 
sues an uneasy sense called disappointment; if the object be so 
totally lost that there is no chance of enjoying it again, a passion 
arises in the mind, which is called grief. Now there is none of these, 
not even grief, which is the most violent, that I think has any re- 
semblance to positive pain. The person who grieves, suffers his 
passion to grow upon him; he indulges it, he loves it: but this never 
happens in the case of actual pain, which no man ever willingly en- 
dured for any considerable time. That grief should be willingly 
endured, though far from a simply pleasing sensation, is not so 
difficult to be understood. It is the nature of grief to keep its object 
perpetually in its eye, to present it in its most pleasurable views> to 
repeat all the circumstances that attend it, even to the last minute- 
ness; to go back to every particular enjoyment, to dwell upon each, 
and to find a thousand new perfections in all, that were not suffi- 
ciently understood before; in grief, the pleasure is still uppermost; 
and the affliction we suffer has no resemblance to absolute pain, 
which is always odious, and which we endeavor to shake off as 
soon as possible. The Odyssey of Homer, which abounds with so 
many natural and affecting images, has none more striking than 
those which Menelaus raises of the calamitous fate of his friends, 
and his own manner of feeling it. He owns, indeed, that he often 
gives himself some intermission from such melancholy reflections; 
but he observes, too, that, melancholy as they are, they give him 
pleasure. 



'AXX* eAiTrrjs Travras /J.tv odvpopevos /cat 
IloXXd/as kv jue'ya.poicri Kadrifjievos fnj.eTtpot<TLV, 
"AAXore p'tv re you fypkva. Tepirofj.ai, aXXore 8' afire 
atyiipos 5e /copos Kpvcpdto 76010. 

Horn. Od.A. 100. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 35 

Still in short intervals of pleasing woe, 
Regardful of the friendly dues I owe, 
I to the glorious dead, for ever dear, 
Indulge the tribute of a grafeful tear. 

On the other hand, when we recover our health, when we escape 
an imminent danger, is it with joy that we are affected? The sense 
on these occasions is far from that smooth and voluptuous satisfac- 
tion which the assured prospect of pleasure bestows. The delight 
which arises from the modifications of pain confesses the stock from 
whence it sprung, in its solid, strong, and severe nature. 

SECT. VI. OF THE PASSIONS WHICH BELONG TO SELF-PRESERVATION 

MOST of the ideas which are capable of making a powerful im- 
pression on the mind, whether simply of Pain or Pleasure, or of 
the modifications of those, may be reduced very nearly to these two 
heads, self-preservation and society; to the ends of one or the other 
of which all our passions are calculated to answer. The passions 
which concern self-preservation, turn mostly on pain or danger. The 
ideas of pain, sickness, and death, fill the mind with strong emo- 
tions of horror; but life and health, though they put us in a capacity 
of being affected with pleasure, make no such impression by the 
simple enjoyment. The passions therefore which are conversant 
about the preservation of the individual turn chiefly on pain and 
danger, and they are the most powerful of all the passions. 

SECT. VII. OF THE SUBLIME 

WHATEVER is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain and 
danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conver- 
sant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to 
terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the 
strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling. I say the 
strongest emotion, because I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much 
more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure. 
Without all doubt, the torments which we may be made to suffer 
are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than any 
pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest, or than 
the liveliest imagination, and the most sound and exquisitely sensible 



36 EDMUND BURKE 

body, could enjoy. Nay, I am in great doubt whether any man 
could be found, who would earn a life of the most perfect satisfac- 
tion, at the price of ending it in the torments, which justice inflicted 
in a few hours on the late unfortunate regicide in France. But as 
pain is stronger in its operation than pleasure, so death is in gen- 
eral a much more affecting idea than pain; because there are very 
few pains, however exquisite, which are not preferred to death: 
nay, what generally makes pain itself, if I may say so, more painful, 
is, that it is considered as an emissary of this king of terrors. When 
danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any 
delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with 
certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we 
every day experience. The cause of this I shall endeavour to investi- 
gate hereafter. 

SECT. VIII. OF THE PASSIONS WHICH BELONG TO SOCIETY 

THE other head under which I class our passions, is that of 
society, which may be divided into two sorts. I. The society of the 
sexes, which answers the purposes of propagation; and next, that 
more general society, which we have with men and with othei ani- 
mals, and which we may in some sort be said to have even with the 
inanimate world. The passions belonging to the preservation of the 
individual turn wholly on pain and danger: those which belong 
to generation have their origin in gratifications and pleasures; the 
pleasure most directly belonging to this purpose is of a lively char- 
acter, rapturous and violent, and confessedly the highest pleasure 
of sense; yet the absence of this so great an enjoyment scarce 
amounts to an uneasiness; and, except at particular times, I do not 
think it affects at all. When men describe in what manner they 
are affected by pain and danger, they do not dwell on the pleasure 
of health and the comfort of security, and then lament the loss of 
these satisfactions: the whole turns upon the actual pains and hor- 
rors which they endure. But if you listen to the complaints of a 
forsaken lover, you observe that he insists largely on the pleasures 
which he enjoyed, or hoped to enjoy, and on the perfection of the 
object of his desires; it is the loss which is always uppermost in his 
mind. The violent effects produced by love, which has sometimes 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 37 

been even wrought up to madness, is no objection to the rule which 
we seek to establish. When men have suffered their imaginations 
to be long affected with any idea, it so wholly engrosses them as 
to shut out by degrees almost every other, and to break down every 
partition of the mind which would confine it. Any idea is sufficient 
for the purpose, as is evident from the infinite variety of causes, 
which give rise to madness: but this at most can only prove, that 
the passion of love is capable of producing very extraordinary effects, 
not that its extraordinary emotions have any connexion with posi- 
tive pain. 

SECT. IX. THE FINAL CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PASSIONS 

BELONGING TO SELF-PRESERVATION, AND THOSE WHICH REGARD 

THE SOCIETY OF THE SEXES 

THE final cause of the difference in character between the passions 
which regard self-preservation, and those which are directed to the 
multiplication of the species, will illustrate the foregoing remarks 
yet further; and it is, I imagine, worthy of observation even upon 
its own account. As the performance of our duties of every kind 
depends upon life, and the performing them with vigour and effi- 
cacy depends upon health, we are very strongly affected with what- 
ever threatens the destruction of either: but as we are not made to 
acquiesce in life and health, the simple enjoyment of them is not 
attended with any real pleasure, lest, satisfied with that, we should 
give ourselves over to indolence and inaction. On the other hand, 
the generation of mankind is a great purpose, and it is requisite 
that men should be animated to the pursuit of it by some great 
incentive. It is therefore attended with a very high pleasure; but 
as it is by no means designed to be our constant business, it is not 
fit that the absence of this pleasure should be attended with any 
considerable pain. The difference between men and brutes, in this 
point, seems to be remarkable. Men are at all times pretty equally 
disposed to the pleasures of love, because they are to be guided by 
reason in the time and manner of indulging them. Had any great 
pain arisen from the want of this satisfaction, reason, I am afraid, 
would find great difficulties in the performance of its office. But 
brutes, who obey laws, in the execution of which their own reason 



38 EDMUND BURKE 

has but little share, have their stated seasons; at such times it is not 
improbable that the sensation from the want is very troublesome, be- 
cause the end must be then answered, or be missed in many, per- 
haps for ever; as the inclination returns only with its season. 

SECT. X. OF BEAUTY 

THE passion which belongs to generation, merely as such, is lust 
only. This is evident in brutes, whose passions are more unmixed, 
and which pursue their purposes more directly than ours. The only 
distinction they observe with regard to their mates, is that of sex. 
It is true, that they stick severally to their own species in preference 
to all others. But this preference, I imagine, does not arise from 
any sense of beauty which they find in their species, as Mr. Addison 
supposes, but from a law of some other kind, to which they are 
subject; and this we may fairly conclude, from their apparent want 
of choice amongst those objects to which the barriers of their species 
have confined them. But man, who is a creature adapted to a 
greater variety and intricacy of relation, connects with the general 
passion the idea of some social qualities, which direct and heighten 
the appetite which he has in common with all other animals; and 
as he is not designed like them to live at large, it is fit that he should 
have something to create a preference, and fix his choice; and this 
in general should be some sensible quality; as no other can so 
quickly, so powerfully, or so surely produce its effect. The object 
therefore of this mixed passion, which we call love, is the beauty 
of the sex. Men are carried to the sex in general, as it is the sex, 
and by the common law of nature; but they are attached to par- 
ticulars by personal beauty. I call beauty a social quality; for where 
women and men, and not only they, but when other animals give 
us a sense of joy and pleasure in beholding them, (and there are 
many that do so,) they inspire us with sentiments of tenderness and 
affection towards their persons; we like to have them near us, and 
we enter willingly into a kind of relation with them, unless we 
should have strong reasons to the contrary. But to what end, in 
many cases, this was designed, I am unable to discover; for I see 
no greater reason for a connexion between man and several animals 
who are attired in so engaging a manner, than between him and 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 39 

some others who entirely want this attraction, or possess it in a far 
weaker degree. But it is probable, that Providence did not make 
even this distinction, but with a view to some great end; though 
we cannot perceive distinctly what it is, as his wisdom is not our 
wisdom, nor our ways his ways. 

SECT. XI. SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE 

THE second branch of the social passions is that which administers 
to society in general. With regard to this, I observe, that society, 
merely as society, without any particular heightenings, gives us no 
positive pleasure in the enjoyment; but absolute and entire solitude, 
that is, the total and perpetual exclusion from all society, is as great 
a positive pain as can almost be conceived. Therefore in the balance 
between the pleasure of general society and the pain of absolute 
solitude, pain is the predominant idea. But the pleasure of any par- 
ticular social enjoyment outweighs very considerably the uneasiness 
caused by the want of that particular enjoyment; so that the strong- 
est sensations relative to the habitudes of particular society are sensa- 
tions of pleasure. Good company, lively conversation, and the en- 
dearments of friendship, fill the mind with great pleasure; a tem- 
porary solitude, on the other hand, is itself agreeable. This may 
perhaps prove that we are creatures designed for contemplation as 
well as action; since solitude as well as society has its pleasures; 
as from the former observation we may discern, that an entire life 
of solitude contradicts the purposes of our being, since death itself 
is scarcely an idea of more terror. 

SECT. XII. SYMPATHY, IMITATION, AND AMBITION 

UNDER this denomination of society, the passions are of a com- 
plicated kind, and branch out into a variety of forms, agreeably 
to that variety of ends they are to serve in the great chain of so- 
ciety. The three principal links in this chain are sympathy, imita- 
tion, and ambition. 

SECT. XIII. SYMPATHY 

IT is by the first of these passions that we enter into the concerns 
of others; that we are moved as they are moved, and are never 



40 EDMUND BURKE 

suffered to be indifferent spectators of almost anything which men 
can do or suffer. For sympathy must be considered as a sort of 
substitution, by which we are put into the place o another man, 
and affected in many respects as he is affected; so that this passion 
may either partake of the nature of those which regard self-preser- 
vation, and turning upon pain may be a source of the sublime or it 
may turn upon ideas of pleasure; and then whatever has been said 
of the social affections, whether they regard society in general, or 
only some particular modes of it, may be applicable here. It is by 
this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and other affecting arts, 
transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often 
capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death 
itself. It is a common observation, that objects which in the reality 
would shock, are in tragical, and such like representations, the 
source of a very high species of pleasure. This, taken as a fact, has 
been the cause of much reasoning. The satisfaction has been com- 
monly attributed, first, to the comfort we receive in considering 
that so melancholy a story is no more than a fiction; and, next, to 
the contemplation of our own freedom from the evils which we see 
represented. I am afraid it is a practice much too common in in- 
quiries of this nature, to attribute the cause of feelings which merely 
arise from the mechanical structure of our bodies, or from the natu- 
ral frame and constitution of our minds, to certain conclusions of 
the reasoning faculty on the objects presented to us; for I should 
imagine, that the influence of reason in producing our passions is 
nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed. 

SECT. XIV. THE EFFECTS OF SYMPATHY IN THE DISTRESSES OF OTHERS 

To examine this point concerning the effect of tragedy in a 
proper manner, we must previously consider how we are affected by 
the feelings of our fellow-creatures in circumstances of real dis- 
tress. I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no 
small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others; for let the 
affection be what it will in appearance, if it does not make us shun 
such objects, if on the contrary it induces us to approach them, if 
it makes us dwell upon them, in this case I conceive we must have 
a delight or pleasure of some species or other in contemplating 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 4! 

objects of this kind. Do we not read the authentic histories of scenes 
of this nature with as much pleasure as romances or poems, where 
the incidents are fictitious? The prosperity of no empire, nor the 
grandeur of no king, can so agreeably affect in the reading, as the 
ruin of the state of Macedon, and the distress of its unhappy prince. 
Such a catastrophe touches us in history as much as the destruction 
of Troy does in fable. Our delight, in cases of this kind, is very 
greatly heightened, if the sufferer be some excellent person who 
sinks under an unworthy fortune. Scipio and Cato are both virtu- 
ous characters; but we are more deeply affected by the violent death 
of the one, and the ruin of the great cause he adhered to, than with 
the deserved triumphs and uninterrupted prosperity of the other; 
for terror is a passion which always produces delight when it does 
not press too closely; and pity is a passion accompanied with pleas- 
ure, because it arises from love and social affection. Whenever we 
are formed by nature to any active purpose, the passion which ani- 
mates us to it is attended with delight, or a pleasure of some kind, 
let the subject-matter be what it will; and as our Creator has de- 
signed that we should be united by the bond of sympathy, he 
has strengthened that bond by a proportionable delight; and there 
most where our sympathy is most wanted, in the distresses of others. 
If this passion was simply painful, we would shun with the greatest 
care all persons and places that could excite such a passion; as 
some, who are so far gone in indolence as not to endure any strong 
impression, actually do. But the case is widely different with the 
greater part of mankind; there is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, 
as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity; so that whether 
the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back 
to it in history, it always touches with delight. This is not an un- 
mixed delight, but blended with no small uneasiness. The delight 
we have in such things, hinders us from shunning scenes of misery; 
and the pain we feel prompts us to relieve ourselves in relieving 
those who surfer; and all this antecedent to any reasoning, by an 
instinct that works us to its own purposes without our concurrence* 



42 EDMUND BURKE 

SECT. XV. OF THE EFFECTS OF TRAGEDY 

IT is thus in real calamities. In imitated distresses the only dif- 
ference is the pleasure resulting from the effects of imitation; for 
it is never so perfect, but we can perceive it is imitation, and on that 
principle are somewhat pleased with it. And indeed in some cases 
we derive as much or more pleasure from that source than from the 
thing itself. But then I imagine we shall be much mistaken, if we 
attribute any considerable part of our satisfaction in tragedy to the 
consideration that tragedy is a deceit, and its representations no 
realities. The nearer it approaches the reality, and the farther it re- 
moves us from all idea of fiction, the more perfect is its power. But 
be its power of what kind it will, it never approaches to what it 
represents. Choose a day on which to represent the most sublime 
and affecting tragedy we have; appoint the most favourite actors; 
spare no cost upon the scenes and decorations, unite the greatest 
efforts of poetry, painting, and music; and when you have col- 
lected your audience, just at the moment when their minds are 
erect with expectation, let it be reported that a state criminal of 
high rank is on the point of being executed in the adjoining square; 
in a moment the emptiness of the theatre would demonstrate the 
comparative weakness of the imitative arts, and proclaim the tri- 
umph of the real sympathy. I believe that this notion of our having 
a simple pain in the reality, yet a delight in the representation, arises 
from hence, that we do not sufficiently distinguish what we would 
by no means choose to do, from what we should be eager enough 
to see if it was once done. The delight in seeing things, which, so 
far from doing, our heartiest wishes would be to see redressed. This 
noble capital, the pride of England and of Europe, I believe no man 
is so strangely wicked as to desire to see destroyed by a conflagra- 
tion or an earthquake, though he should be removed himself to 
the greatest distance from the danger. But suppose such a fatal ac- 
cident to have happened, what numbers from all parts would crowd 
to behold the ruins, and amongst many who would have been con- 
tent never to have seen London in its glory! Nor is it, either in real 
or fictitious distresses, our immunity from them which produces 
our delight; in my own mind I can discover nothing like it. I 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 43 

apprehend that this mistake is owing to a sort of sophism, by which 
we are frequently imposed upon; it arises from our not distin- 
guishing between what is indeed a necessary condition to our doing 
or suffering anything in general, and what is the cause of some 
particular act. If a man kills me with a sword, it is a necessary con- 
dition to this that we should have been both of us alive before the 
fact; and yet it would be absurd to say, that our being both living 
creatures was the cause of his crime and of my death. So it is certain, 
that it is absolutely necessary my life should be out of any immi- 
nent hazard, before I can take a delight in the sufferings of others, 
real or imaginary, or indeed in anything else from any cause what- 
soever. But then it is a sophism to argue from thence, that this 
immunity is the cause of my delight either on these or on any 
occasions. No one can distinguish such a cause of satisfaction in 
his own mind, I believe; nay, when we do not suffer any very acute 
pain, nor are exposed to any imminent danger of our lives, we can 
feel for others, whilst we suffer ourselves; and often then most 
when we are softened by affliction; we see with pity even distresses 
which we would accept in the place of our own. 

SECT. XVI. IMITATION 

THE second passion belonging to society is imitation, or, if you 
will, a desire of imitating, and consequently a pleasure in it. This 
passion arises from much the same cause with sympathy. For as 
sympathy makes us take a concern in whatever men feel, so this 
affection prompts us to copy whatever they do; and consequently 
we have a pleasure in imitating, and in whatever belongs to imita- 
tion, merely as it is such, without any intervention of the reasoning 
faculty, but solely from our natural constitution, which Providence 
has framed in such a manner as to find either pleasure or delight, 
according to the nature of the object, in whatever regards the pur- 
poses of our being. It is by imitation far more than by precept, that 
we learn everything; and what we learn thus, we acquire not only 
more effectually, but more pleasantly. This forms our manners, our 
opinions, our lives. It is one of the strongest links of society; it is 
a species of mutual compliance, which all men yield to each other, 
without constraint to themselves, and which is extremely flattering 



44 EDMUNH) BURKE 

to all. Herein it is that painting and many other agreeable arts have 
laid one of the principal foundations of their power. And since, by 
its influence on our manners and our passions, it is of such great 
consequence, I shall here venture to lay down a rule, which may in- 
form us with a good degree of certainty when we are to attribute the 
power of the arts to imitation, or to our pleasure in the skill of 
the imitator merely, and when to sympathy, or some other cause 
in conjunction with it. When the object represented in poetry or 
painting is such as we could have no desire of seeing in the reality, 
then I may be sure that its power in poetry or painting is owing to 
the power of imitation, and to no cause operating in the thing itself. 
So it is with most of the pieces which the painters call still-life. In 
these a cottage, a dunghill, the meanest and most ordinary utensils 
of the kitchen, are capable of giving us pleasure. But when the 
object of the painting or poem is such as we should run to see if 
real, let it affect us with what odd sort of sense it will, we may 
rely upon it, that the power of the poem or picture is more owing 
to the nature of the thing itself than to the mere effect of imitation, 
or to a consideration of the skill of the imitator, however excellent. 
Aristotle has spoken so much and so boldly upon the force of imita- 
tion in his Poetics, that it makes any further discourse upon this 
subject the less necessary. 

SECT. XVII. AMBITION 

ALTHOUGH imitation is one of the great instruments used by 
Providence in bringing our nature towards its perfection, yet if men 
gave themselves up to imitation entirely, and each followed the 
other, and so on in an eternal circle, it is easy to see that there never 
could be any improvement amongst them. Men must remain as 
brutes do, the same at the end that they are at this day, and that they 
were in the beginning of the world. To prevent this, God has 
planted in man a sense of ambition, and a satisfaction arising from 
the contemplation of his excelling his fellows in something deemed 
valuable amongst them. It is this passion that drives men to all the 
ways we see in use of signalizing themselves, and that tends to make 
whatever excites in a man the idea of this distinction so very pleas- 
ant. It has been so strong as to make very miserable men take 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 45 

comfort, that they were supreme in misery; and certain it is, that, 
where we cannot distinguish ourselves by something excellent, we 
begin to take a complacency in some singular infirmities, follies, or 
defects of one kind or other. It is on this principle that flattery is 
so prevalent; for flattery is no more than what raises in a man's 
mind an idea of a preference which he has not. Now, whatever, 
either on good or upon bad grounds, tends to raise a man in his 
own opinion, produces a sort of swelling and triumph, that is ex- 
tremely grateful to the human mind; and this swelling is never more 
perceived, nor operates with more force, than when without danger 
we are conversant with terrible objects; the mind always claiming 
to itself some part of the dignity and importance of the things which 
it contemplates. Hence proceeds what Longinus has observed of 
that glorying sense of inward greatness, that always fills the reader 
of such passages in poets and orators as are sublime; it is what every 
man must have felt in himself upon such occasions. 

SECT. XVIII. THE RECAPITULATION 

To draw the whole of what has been said into a few distinct 
points: The passions which belong to self-preservation turn on 
pain and danger; they are simply painful when their causes imme- 
diately affect us; they are delightful when we have an idea of pain 
and danger, without being actually in such circumstances; this de- 
light I have not called pleasure, because it turns on pain, and be- 
cause it is different enough from any idea of positive pleasure. 
Whatever excites this delight, I call sublime. The passions belong- 
ing to self-preservation are the strongest of all the passions. 

The second head to which the passions are referred with relation 
to their final cause, is society. There are two sorts of societies. The 
first is, the society of sex. The passion belonging to this is called 
love, and it contains a mixture of lust; its object is the beauty of 
women. The other is the great society with man and all other ani- 
mals. The passion subservient to this is called likewise love, but it 
has no mixture of lust, and its object is beauty; which is a name 
I shall apply to all such qualities in things as induce in us a sense 
of affection and tenderness, or some other passion the most nearly re- 
sembling these. The passion of love has its rise in positive pleasure; 



46 EDMUND BURKE 

it is, like all things which grow out of pleasure, capable of being 
mixed with a mode of uneasiness, that is, when an idea of its object 
is excited in the mind with an idea at the same time of having 
irretrievably lost it. This mixed sense of pleasure I have not called 
pain, because it turns upon actual pleasure, and because it is, both 
in its cause and in most of its effects, of a nature altogether different. 
Next to the general passion we have for society, to a choice in 
which we are directed by the pleasure we have in the object, the 
particular passion under this head called sympathy has the greatest 
extent. The nature of this passion is, to put us in the place of an- 
other in whatever circumstance he is in, and to affect us in a like 
manner; so that this passion may, as the occasion requires, turn 
either on pain or pleasure; but with the modifications mentioned in 
some cases in sect. n. As to imitation and preference, nothing more 
need be said. 

SECT. XIX. THE CONCLUSION 

I BELIEVED that an attempt to range and methodize some of our 
most leading passions would be a good preparative to such an in- 
quiry as we are going to make in the ensuing discourse. The pas- 
sions I have mentioned are almost the only ones which it can be 
necessary to consider in our present design; though the variety of 
the passions is great, and worthy in every branch of that variety, of 
an attentive investigation. The more accurately we search into the 
human mind, the stronger traces we everywhere find of his wisdom 
who made it. If a discourse on the use of the parts of the body may 
be considered as an hymn to the Creator; the use of the passions, 
which are the organs of the mind, cannot be barren of praise to 
him, nor unproductive to ourselves of that noble and uncommon 
union of science and admiration, which a contemplation of the 
works of infinite wisdom alone can afford to a rational mind: 
whilst, referring to him whatever we find of right or good or fair 
in ourselves, discovering his strength and wisdom even in our own 
weakness and imperfection, honouring them where we discover 
them clearly, and adoring their profundity where we are lost in 
our search, we may be inquisitive without impertinence, and ele- 
vated without pride; we may be admitted, if I may dare to say so, 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 47 

into the counsels of the Almighty by a consideration of his works. 
The elevation of the mind ought to be the principal end of all our 
studies; which if they do not in some measure effect, they are of 
very little service to us. But, beside this great purpose, a considera- 
tion of the rationale of our passions seems to me very necessary for 
all who would afreet them upon solid and sure principles. It is 
not enough to know them in general: to affect them after a deli- 
cate manner, or to judge properly of any work designed to affect 
them, we should know the exact boundaries of their several juris- 
dictions; we should pursue them through all their variety of opera- 
tions, and pierce into the inmost, and what might appear inaccessi- 
ble, parts of our nature, 

Quod latet arcand non enanabile fibrd. 

Without all this it is possible for a man, after a confused manner, 
sometimes to satisfy his own mind of the truth of his work; but 
he can never have a certain determinate rule to go by, nor can he 
ever make his propositions sufficiendy clear to others. Poets, and 
orators, and painters, and those who cultivate other branches of the 
liberal arts, have, without this critical knowledge, succeeded well 
in their several provinces, and will succeed: as among artificers 
there are many machines made and even invented without any 
exact knowledge of the principles they are governed by. It is, I own, 
not uncommon to be wrong in theory, and right in practice; and we 
are happy that it is so. Men often act right from their feelings, who 
afterwards reason but ill on them from principle: but as it is im- 
possible to avoid an attempt at such reasoning, and equally im- 
possible to prevent its having some influence on our practice, surely 
it is worth taking some pains to have it just, and founded on the 
basis of sure experience. We might expect that the artists them- 
selves would have been our surest guides; but the artists have been 
too much occupied in the practice: the philosophers have done little; 
and what they have done, was mostly with a view to their own 
schemes and systems: and as for those called critics, they have gen- 
erally sought the rule of the arts in the wrong place; they sought it 
among poems, pictures, engravings, statues, and buildings. But art 
can never give the rules that make an art. This is, I believe, the 



40 EDMUND BURKE 

reason why artists in general, and poets principally, have been con- 
fined in so narrow a circle: they have been rather imitators of one 
another than of nature; and this with so faithful an uniformity, and 
to so remote an antiquity, that it is hard to say who gave the 
first model. Critics follow them, and therefore can do little as 
guides. I can judge but poorly of anything, whilst I measure it by 
no other standard than itself. The true standard of the arts is in 
every man's power; and an easy observation of the most common, 
sometimes of the meanest, things in nature, will give the truest 
lights, where the greatest sagacity and industry, that slights such 
observation, must leave us in the dark, or, what is worse, amuse and 
mislead us by false lights. In an inquiry it is almost everything to be 
once in a right road. I am satisfied I have done but little by these 
observations considered in themselves; and I never should have 
taken the pains to digest them, much less should I have ever ven- 
tured to publish them, if I was not convinced that nothing tends 
more to the corruption of science than to suffer it to stagnate. These 
waters must be troubled, before they can exert their virtues. A 
man who works beyond the surface of things, though he may be 
wrong himself, yet he clears the way for others, and may chance 
to make even his errors subservient to the cause of truth. In the 
following parts I shall inquire what things they are that cause 
in us the affections of the sublime and beautiful, as in this I have 
considered the affections themselves. I only desire one favour, that 
no part of this discourse may be judged of by itself, and independ- 
ently of the rest; for I am sensible I have not disposed my materials 
to abide the test of a captious controversy, but of a sober and even 
forgiving examination, that they are not armed at all points for 
battle, but dressed to visit those who are willing to give a peaceful 
entrance to truth. 



PART II 

SECTION I. OF THE PASSION CAUSED BY THE SUBLIME 

^ AHE passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, 
when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonish- 
JL ment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which 
all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. 1 In this 
case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot enter- 
tain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which em- 
ploys it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from 
being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries 
us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the 
effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are 
admiration, reverence, and respect. 

SECT. II. TERROR 

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting 
and reasoning as fear. 2 For fear being an apprehension of pain or 
death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. What- 
ever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, 
whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions 
or not; for it is impossible to look on anything as trifling, or con- 
temptible, that may be dangerous. There are many animals, who 
though far from being large, are yet capable of raising ideas of the 
sublime, because they are considered as objects of terror. As serpents 
and poisonous animals of almost all kinds. And to things of great 
dimensions, if we annex an adventitious idea of terror, they become 
without comparison greater. A level plain of a vast extent on land, 
is certainly no mean idea; the prospect of such a plain may be as 
extensive as a prospect of the ocean: but can it ever fill the mind 
with anything so great as the ocean itself? This is owing to several 
causes; but it is owing to none more than this, that the ocean is an 

1 Part I. sect. 3, 4, 7. 2 Part IV. sect. 3-6. 
49 



50 EDMUND BURKE 

object of no small terror. Indeed, terror is in all cases whatsover, 
either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime. 
Several languages bear a strong testimony to the affinity of these 
ideas. They frequently use the same word, to signify indifferently 
the modes of astonishment or admiration, and those of terror. 
GaM^os is in Greek, either fear or wonder; dcivos is terrible or re- 
spectable; cuSeco, to reverence or to fear. Vereor in Latin, is what 
aiSeco is in Greek. The Romans used the verb stupeo, a term which 
strongly marks the state of an astonished mind, to express the effect 
either of simple fear or of astonishment; the word attonitus (thun- 
der-struck) is equally expressive of the alliance of these ideas; and 
do not the French etonnement, and the English astonishment and 
amazement, point out as clearly the kindred emotions which attend 
fear and wonder ? They who have a more general knowledge of lan- 
guages, could produce, I make no doubt, many other and equally 
striking examples. 

SECT. III. OBSCURITY 

To make anything very terrible, obscurity 1 seems in general to 
be necessary. When we know the full extent of any danger, when 
we can accustom our eyes to it, a great deal of the apprehension 
vanishes. Every one will be sensible of this, who considers how 
greatly night adds to our dread, in all cases of danger, and how 
much the notions of ghosts and goblins, of which none can form 
clear ideas, affect minds which give credit to the popular tales con- 
cerning such sorts of beings. Those despotic governments, which are 
founded on the passions of men, and principally upon the passion 
of fear, keep their chief as much as may be from the public eye. 
The policy has been the same in many cases of religion. Almost 
all the heathen temples were dark. Even in the barbarous temples 
of the Americans at this day, they keep their idol in a dark part of 
the hut, which is consecrated to his worship. For this purpose too 
the Druids performed all their ceremonies in the bosom of the dark- 
est woods, and in the shade of the oldest and most spreading oaks. 
No person seems better to have understood the secret of heighten- 
ing, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the expression, in their 

! Part IV. sect. 14-16. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 5 1 

strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity, than Milton. 
His description of Death in the second book is admirably studied; 
it is astonishing with what a gloomy pomp, with what a significant 
and expressive uncertainty of strokes and colouring, he has finished 
the portrait of the king of terrors: 

The other shape, 

If shape it might be called that shape had none 
Distinguishable, in member, joint, or limb; 
Or substance might be called that shadow seemed; 
For each seemed either; black he stood as night; 
Fierce as ten furies; terrible as hell; 
And shook a deadly dart. What seemed his head 
The likeness of a kingly crown had on. 

In this description all is dark, uncertain, confused, terrible, and 
sublime to the last degree. 

SECT. IV. OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CLEARNESS AND OBSCURITY WITH 
REGARD TO THE PASSIONS 

IT is one thing to make an idea clear, and another to make it 
affecting to the imagination. If I make a drawing of a palace, or a 
temple, or a landscape, I present a very clear idea of those objects; but 
then (allowing for the effect of imitation, which is something) my 
picture can at most affect only as the palace, temple, or landscape 
would have affected in the reality. On the other hand, the most 
lively and spirited verbal description I can give raises a very obscure 
and imperfect idea of such objects; but then it is in my power to raise 
a stronger emotion by the description than I could do by the best 
painting. This experience constantly evinces. The proper manner 
of conveying the affections of the mind from one to another, is by 
words; there is a great insufficiency in all other methods of com- 
munication; and so far is a clearness of imagery from being abso- 
lutely necessary to an influence upon the passions, that they may be 
considerably operated upon, without presenting any image at all, by 
certain sounds adapted to that purpose; of which we have a suffi- 
cient proof in the acknowledged and powerful effects of instru- 
mental music. In reality, a great clearness helps but little towards 



52 EDMUND BURKE 

affecting the passions, as it is in some sort an enemy to all enthusi- 
asms whatsoever. 

SECT. [iV.] THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUED 

THERE are two verses in Horace's Art of Poetry, that seem to 
contradict this opinion; for which reason I shall take a little more 
pains in clearing it up. The verses are, 

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures, 
Quam quce sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. 

On this the Abbe du Bos founds a criticism, wherein he gives 
painting the preference to poetry in the article of moving the pas- 
sions; principally on account of the greater clearness of the ideas it 
represents. I believe this excellent judge was led into this mistake 
(if it be a mistake) by his system; to which he found it more con- 
formable than I imagine it will be found by experience. I know 
several who admire and love painting, and yet who regard the ob- 
jects of their admiration in that art with coolness enough in com- 
parison of that warmth with which they are animated by affecting 
pieces of poetry or rhetoric. Among the common sort of people, I 
never could perceive that painting had much influence on their 
passions. It is true, that the best sorts of painting, as well as the 
best sorts of poetry, are not much understood in that sphere. But it is 
most certain, that their passions are very strongly roused by a fanatic 
preacher, or by the ballads of Chevy-chase, or the Children in the 
Wood, and by other little popular poems and tales that are current 
in that rank of life. I do not know of any paintings, bad or good, 
that produce the same effect. So that poetry, with all its obscurity, 
has a more general, as well as a more powerful, dominion over the 
passions, than the other art. And I think there are reasons in na- 
ture, why the obscure idea, when properly conveyed, should be 
more affecting than the clear. It is our ignorance of things that 
causes all our admiration, and chiefly excites our passions. Knowl- 
edge and acquaintance make the most striking causes affect but 
little. It is thus with the vulgar; and all men are as the vulgar in 
what they do not understand. The ideas of eternity and infinity 
are among the most affecting we have; and yet perhaps there is 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 53 

nothing of which we really understand so little, as of infinity and 
eternity. We do not anywhere meet a more sublime description 
than this justly celebrated one of Milton, wherein he gives the por- 
trait of Satan with a dignity so suitable to the subject: 

He above the rest 
In shape and gesture proudly eminent 
Stood like a tower; his form had yet not lost 
All her original brightness, nor appeared 
Less than archangel ruined, and th' excess 
Of glory obscured: as when the sun new risen 
Looks through the horizontal misty air 
Shorn of his beams; or from behind the moon 
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds 
On half the nations; and with fear of change 
Perplexes monarchs. 

Here is a very noble picture; and in what does this poetical picture 
consist? In images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through 
mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutions 
of kingdoms. The mind is hurried out of itself, by a crowd of great 
and confused images; which affect because they are crowded and 
confused. For, separate them, and you lose much of the greatness; 
and join them, and you infallibly lose the clearness. The images 
raised by poetry are always of this obscure kind; though in general 
the effects of poetry are by no means to be attributed to the images 
it raises; which point we shall examine more at large hereafter. 1 
But painting, when we have allowed for the pleasure of imitation, 
can only affect simply by the images it presents; and even in paint- 
ing, a judicious obscurity in some things contributes to the effect 
of the picture; because the images in painting are exactly similar to 
those in nature; and in nature, dark, confused, uncertain images 
have a greater power on the fancy to form the grander passions, 
than those have which are more clear and determinate. But where 
and when this observation may be applied to practice, and how far 
it shall be extended, will be better deduced from the nature of the 
subject, and from the occasion, than from any rules that can be 
given. 

1 Part V. 



54 EDMUND BURKE 

I am sensible that this idea has met with opposition, and is likely 
still to be rejected by several. But let it be considered, that hardly 
anything can strike the mind with its greatness, which does not 
make some sort of approach towards infinity; which nothing can do 
whilst we are able to perceive its bounds; but to see an object dis- 
tinctly, and to perceive its bounds, is one and the same thing. A 
clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea. There is a 
passage in the book of Job amazingly sublime, and this sublimity 
is principally due to the terrible uncertainty of the thing described: 
In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth 
upon men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my 
bones to sha\e. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair of 
my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern the form 
thereof: an image was before mine eyes, there was silence, and I 
heard a voice, Shall mortal man be more just than God? We are 
first prepared with the utmost solemnity for the vision; we are first 
terrified, before we are let even into the obscure cause of our emo- 
tion; but when this grand cause of terror makes it appearance, what 
is it? Is it not wrapt up in the shades of its own incomprehensible 
darkness, more awful, more striking, more terrible, than the liveli- 
est description, than the clearest painting, could possibly represent 
it? When painters have attempted to give us clear representations 
of these very fanciful and terrible ideas, they have, I think, almost 
always failed; insomuch that I have been at a loss, in all the pic- 
tures I have seen of hell, to determine whether the painter did not 
intend something ludicrous. Several painters have handled a sub- 
ject of this kind, with a view of assembling as many horrid phan- 
toms as their imagination could suggest; but all the designs I have 
chanced to meet of the temptation of St. Anthony were rather a 
sort of odd, wild grotesques, than anything capable of producing 
a serious passion. In all these subjects poetry is very happy. Its ap- 
paritions, its chimeras, its harpies, its allegorical figures, are grand 
and affecting; and though Virgil's Fame and Homer's Discord are 
obscure, they are magnificent figures. These figures in painting 
would be clear enough, but I fear they might become ridiculous. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 55 

SECT. V. POWER 

BESIDES those things which directly suggest the idea of danger, and 
those which produce a similar effect from a mechanical cause, I 
know of nothing sublime, which is not some modification of power. 
And this branch rises, as naturally as the other two branches, from 
terror, the common stock of everything that is sublime. The idea of 
power, at first view, seems of the class of those indifferent ones, 
which may equally belong to pain or to pleasure. But in reality, 
the affection, arising from the idea of vast power, is extremely re- 
mote from that neutral character. For first, we must remember, 1 
that the idea of pain, in its highest degree, is much stronger than 
the highest degree of pleasure; and that it preserves the same supe- 
riority through all the subordinate gradations. From hence it is, 
that where the chances for equal degrees of suffering or enjoyment 
are in any sort equal, the idea of the suffering must always be preva- 
lent. And indeed the ideas of pain, and, above all, of death, are so 
very affecting, that whilst we remain in the presence of whatever 
is supposed to have the power of inflicting either, it is impossible to 
be perfectly free from terror. Again, we know by experience, that, 
for the enjoyment of pleasure, no great efforts of power are at all 
necessary; nay, we know, that such efforts would go a great way 
towards destroying our satisfaction: for pleasure must be stolen, 
and not forced upon us; pleasure follows the will; and therefore we 
are generally affected with it by many things of a force greatly in- 
ferior to our own. But pain is always inflicted by a power in some 
way superior, because we never submit to pain willingly. So that 
strength, violence, pain, and terror, are ideas that rush in upon the 
mind together. Look at a man, or any other animal of prodigious 
strength, and what is your idea before reflection? Is it that this 
strength will be subservient to you, to your ease, to your pleasure, 
to your interest in any sense? No; the emotion you feel is, lest this 
enormous strength should be employed to the purposes of rapine 2 
and destruction. That power derives all its sublimity from the 
terror with which it is generally accompanied, will appear evidently 
from its effect in the very few cases, in which it may be possible to 

. sect. 7. 2 Vkle Part III. sect. 21. 



56 EDMUND BURKE 

strip a considerable degree o strength of its ability to hurt. When 
you do this, you spoil it of everything sublime, and it immediately 
becomes contemptible. An ox is a creature of vast strength; but he 
is an innocent creature, extremely serviceable, and not at all dan- 
gerous; for which reason the idea of an ox is by no means grand. 
A bull is strong too: but his strength is of another kind; often very 
destructive, seldom (at least amongst us) of any use in our business; 
the idea of a bull is therefore great, and it has frequently a place in 
sublime descriptions, and elevating comparisons. Let us look at 
another strong animal, in the two distinct lights in which we may 
consider him. The horse in the light of a useful beast, fit for the 
plough, the road, the draft; in every social, useful light, the horse 
has nothing sublime: but is it thus that we are affected with him, 
whose nec\ is clothed with thunder, the glory of whose nostrils is 
terrible, who swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage, 
neither believeth that it is the sound of the trumpet? In this de- 
scription, the useful character of the horse entirely disappears, and 
the terrible and sublime blaze out together. We have continually 
about us animals of a strength that is considerable, but not per- 
nicious. Amongst these we never look for the sublime; it comes 
upon us in the gloomy forest, and in the howling wilderness, in the 
form of the lion, the tiger, the panther, or rhinoceros. Whenever 
strength is only useful, and employed for our benefit or our pleasure, 
then it is never sublime: for nothing can act agreeably to us, that 
does not act in conformity to our will; but to act agreeably to our 
will, it must be subject to us, and therefore can never be the cause 
of a grand and commanding conception. The description of the 
wild ass, in Job, is worked up into no small sublimity, merely by in- 
sisting on his freedom, and his setting mankind at defiance; other- 
wise the description of such an animal could have had nothing 
noble in it. Who hath loosed (says he) the bands of the wild ass? 
whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his 
dwellings. He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth 
he the voice of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pas- 
ture. The magnificent description of the unicorn and of leviathan, 
in the same book, is full of the same heightening circumstances: 
Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee? canst thou bind the uni- 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 57 

corn with his band in the furrow? wilt thou trust him because his 
strength is great? Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hoo%? 
will he mat(e a covenant with thee? wilt thou ta%e him for a servant 
for ever? shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? In 
short, wheresoever we find strength, and in what light soever 
we look upon power we shall all along observe the sublime the 
concomitant of terror, and contempt the attendant on a strength that 
is subservient and innoxious. The race of dogs, in many of their 
kinds, have generally a competent degree of strength and swiftness; 
and they exert these and other valuable qualities which they possess, 
greatly to our convenience and pleasure. Dogs are indeed the most 
social, affectionate, and amiable animals of the whole brute creation; 
but love approaches much nearer to contempt than is commonly 
imagined; and accordingly, though we caress dogs, we borrow 
from them an appellation of the most despicable kind, when we em- 
ploy terms of reproach; and this appellation is the common mark 
of the last vileness and contempt in every language. Wolves have 
not more strength than several species of dogs; but, on account of 
their unmanageable fierceness, the idea of a wolf is not despicable; 
it is not excluded from grand descriptions and similitudes. Thus 
we are affected by strength, which is natural power. The power 
which arises from institution in kings and commanders, has the 
same connexion with terror. Sovereigns are frequently addressed 
with the title of dread majesty. And it may be observed, that young 
persons, little acquainted with the world, and who have not been 
used to approach men in power, are commonly struck with an awe 
which takes away the free use of their faculties. When I prepared 
my seat in the street, (says Job,) the young men saw me, and hid 
themselves. Indeed, so natural is this timidity with regard to power, 
and so strongly does it inhere in our constitution, that very few are 
able to conquer it, but by mixing much in the business of the great 
world, or by using no small violence to their natural dispositions. I 
know some people are of opinion, that no awe, no degree of terror, 
accompanies the idea of power; and have hazarded to affirm, that we 
can contemplate the idea of God himself without any such emo- 
tion. I purposely avoided, when I first considered this subject, to 
introduce the idea of that great and tremendous Being, as an exam- 



58 EDMUND BURKE 

pie in an argument so light as this; though it frequently occurred 
to me, not as an objection to, but as a strong confirmation of, my 
notions in this matter. I hope, in what I am going to say, I shall 
avoid presumption, where it is almost impossible for any mortal to 
speak with strict propriety. I say then, that whilst we consider 
the Godhead merely as he is an object of the understanding, which 
forms a complex idea of power, wisdom, justice, goodness, all 
stretched to a degree far exceeding the bounds of our comprehension, 
whilst we consider the Divinity in this refined and abstracted light, 
the imagination and passions are little or nothing affected. But 
because we are bound, by the condition of our nature, to ascend to 
these pure and intellectual ideas, through the medium of sensible 
images, and to judge of these divine qualities by their evident acts 
and exertions, it becomes extremely hard to disentangle our idea 
of the cause from the effect by which we are led to know it. Thus 
when we contemplate the Deity, his attributes and their operation, 
coming united on the mind, form a sort of sensible image, and as 
such are capable of affecting the imagination. Now, though in a 
just idea of the Deity perhaps none of his attributes are predominant, 
yet, to our imagination, his power is by far the most striking. Some 
reflection, some comparing, is necessary to satisfy us of his wisdom, 
his justice, and his goodness. To be struck with his power, it is only 
necessary that we should open our eyes. But whilst we contem- 
plate so vast an object, under the arm, as it were, of almighty power, 
and invested upon every side with omnipresence, we shrink into the 
minuteness of our own nature, and are, in a manner, annihilated 
before him. And though a consideration of his other attributes may 
relieve, in some measure, our apprehensions; yet no conviction of 
the justice with which it is exercised, nor the mercy with which it is 
tempered, can wholly remove the terror that naturally arises from 
a force which nothing can withstand. If we rejoice, we rejoice with 
trembling: and even whilst we are receiving benefits, we cannot but 
shudder at a power which can confer benefits of such mighty im- 
portance. When the prophet David contemplated the wonders of 
wisdom and power which are displayed in the economy of man, he 
seems to be struck with a sort of divine horror, and cries out, Fear- 
fully and wonderfully am I made! An heathen poet has a send- 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 59 

ment of a similar nature; Horace looks upon it as the last effort 
o philosophical fortitude, to behold without terror and amazement, 
this immense and glorious fabric of the universe: 

Hunc solem, et Stellas, et decedentia certis 
Tempora momentis, sunt qui formidine nulla 
Imbuti spectent. 

Lucretius is a poet not to be suspected of giving way to supersti- 
tious terrors; yet when he supposes the whole mechanism of nature 
laid open by the master of his philosophy, his transport on this mag- 
nificent view, which he has represented in the colours of such bold 
and lively poetry, is overcast with a shade of secret dread and 
horror: 

His ibi me rebus qucedam divlna voluptas 
Percipit, atque horror; quod sic Natura, tua vi 
Tarn manifesta patens, ex omni parte retecta est. 

But the Scripture alone can supply ideas answerable to the majesty 
of this subject. In the Scripture, wherever God is represented as 
appearing or speaking, everything terrible in nature is called up 
to heighten the awe and solemnity of the Divine presence. The 
Psalms, and the prophetical books, are crowded with instances of 
this kind. The earth shoo\, (says the psalmist,) the heavens also 
dropped at the presence of the Lord. And, what is remarkable, the 
painting preserves the same character, not only when he is supposed 
descending to take vengeance upon the wicked, but even when he 
exerts the like plenitude of power in acts of beneficence to mankind. 
Tremble, thou earth! at the presence of the Lord; at the presence 
of the God of Jacob; which turned the roc\ into standing water, the 
flint into a fountain of waters! It were endless to enumerate all 
the passages, both in the sacred and profane writers, which establish 
the general sentiment of mankind, concerning the inseparable union 
of a sacred and reverential awe, with our ideas of the Divinity. Hence 
the common maxim, Primus in or be deos fecit timor. This maxim 
may be, as I believe it is, false with regard to the origin of religion. 
The maker of the maxim saw how inseparable these ideas were, 
without considering that the notion of some great power must be 
always precedent to our dread of it. But this dread must necessarily 



60 EDMUND BURKE 

follow the idea of such a power, when it is once excited in the mind. 
It is on this principle that true religion has, and must have, so large 
a mixture of salutary fear; and that false religions have generally 
nothing else but fear to support them. Before the Christian religion 
had, as it were, humanized the idea of the Divinity, and brought 
it somewhat nearer to us, there was very little said of the love of 
God. The followers of Plato have something of it, and only some- 
thing; the other writers of pagan antiquity, whether poets or phi- 
losophers, nothing at all. And they who consider with what infinite 
attention, by what a disregard of every perishable object, through 
what long habits of piety and contemplation, it is that any man is 
able to attain an entire love and devotion to the Deity, will easily 
perceive, that it is not the first, the most natural and the most strik- 
ing, effect which proceeds from that idea. Thus we have traced 
power through its several gradations unto the highest of all, where 
our imagination is finally lost; and we find terror, quite through- 
out the progress, its inseparable companion, and growing along 
with it, as far as we can possibly trace them. Now as power is 
undoubtedly a capital source of the sublime, this will point out evi- 
dently from whence its energy is derived, and to what class of 
ideas we ought to unite it. 

SECT. VI. PRIVATION 

ALL general privations are great, because they are all terrible; 
Vacuity, Darkness, Solitude, and Silence. With what a fire of imagi- 
nation, yet with what severity of judgment, has Virgil amassed all 
these circumstances, where he knows that all the images of a tre- 
mendous dignity ought to be united, at the mouth of hell! where, 
before he unlocks the secrets of the great deep, he seems to be seized 
with a religious horror, and to retire astonished at the boldness of 
his own designs: 

Dii, quibus imperium est anlmarum, umbrceque silentes! 

Et Chaos, et Phlegethon, loca nocte silentia late, 

Sit mihi fas audita loqui; sit, numine vestro, 

Pandere res aha terra et caligine mersas. 

Ibant obscuri, sola sub nocte, per umbram, 

Perque domos Ditis vacuas, et inania regna. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 6 1 

Ye subterraneous gods, whose awful sway 

The gliding ghosts and silent shades obey; 

O Chaos hoar ! and Phlegethon profound ! 

Whose solemn empire stretches wide around; 

Give me, ye great, tremendous powers, to tell 

Of scenes and wonders in the depth of hell: 

Give me your mighty secrets to display 

From those blacT^ realms of darkness to the day. PITT 

Obscure they went through dreary shades that led 
Along the waste dominions of the dead. DRYDEN. 



SECT. VII. VASTNESS 

GREATNESS 1 of dimension is a powerful cause of the sublime. This 
is too evident, and the observation too common, to need any illus- 
tration: it is not so common to consider in what ways greatness of 
dimension, vastness of extent or quantity, has the most striking 
effect. For certainly, there are ways and modes, wherein the same 
quantity of extension shall produce greater effects than it is found 
to do in others. Extension is either in length, height, or depth. 
Of these the length strikes least; an hundred yards of even ground 
will never work such an effect as a tower an hundred yards high, 
or a rock or mountain of that altitude. I am apt to imagine like- 
wise, that height is less grand than depth; and that we are more 
struck at looking down from a precipice, than looking up at an 
object of equal height; but of that I am not very positive. A per- 
pendicular has more force in forming the sublime, than an inclined 
plane; and the effects of a rugged and broken surface seem stronger 
than where it is smooth and polished. It would carry us out of our 
way to enter in this place into the cause of these appearances; but 
certain it is they afford a large and fruitful field of speculation. 
However, it may not be amiss to add to these remarks upon magni- 
tude, that, as the great extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last 
extreme of littleness is in some measure sublime likewise: when 
we attend to the infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue 
animal life into these excessively small, and yet organized beings, 
that escape the nicest inquisition of the sense; when we push our 

* Part IV. sect. 9. 



62 EDMUND BURKE 

discoveries yet downward, and consider those creatures so many 
degrees yet smaller, and the still diminishing scale of existence, in 
tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense; we become 
amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we 
distinguish in its effects this extreme of littleness from the vast 
itself. For division must be infinite as well as addition; because the 
idea of a perfect unity can no more be arrived at, than that of a 
complete whole, to which nothing may be added. 



SECT. VIII. INFINITY 



ANOTHER source of the sublime is infinity; if it does not rather be- 
long to the last. Infinity has a tendency to fill the mind with that 
sort of delightful horror, which is the most genuine effect and truest 
test of the sublime. There are scarce any things which can become 
the objects of our senses, that are really and in their own nature 
infinite. But the eye not being able to perceive the bounds of many 
things, they seem to be infinite, and they produce the same effects 
as if they were really so. We are deceived in the like manner, if 
the parts of some large object are so continued to any indefinite 
number, that the imagination meets no check which may hinder 
its extending them at pleasure. 

Whenever we repeat any idea frequently, the mind, by a sort 
of mechanism, repeats it long after the first cause has ceased to 
operate. 1 After whirling about, when we sit down, the objects about 
us still seem to whirl. After a long succession of noises, as the 
fall of waters, or the beating of forge-hammers, the hammers beat 
and the water roars in the imagination long after the first sounds 
have ceased to affect it; and they die away at last by gradations 
which are scarcely perceptible. If you hold up a straight pole, with 
your eye to one end, it will seem extended to a length almost in- 
credible. 2 Place a number of uniform and equi-distant marks on this 
pole, they will cause the same deception, and seem multiplied with- 
out end. The senses, strongly affected in some one manner, cannot 
quickly change their tenor, or adapt themselves to other things; 
but they continue in their old channel until the strength of the 
first mover decays. This is the reason of an appearance very fre- 

1 Part IV. sect. 12. 2 Part IV. sect. 14. 






ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 63 

quent in madmen; that they remain whole days and nights, some- 
times whole years, in the constant repetition of some remark, some 
complaint, or song; which having struck powerfully on their dis- 
ordered imagination in the beginning of their phrensy, every repe- 
tition reinforces it with new strength; and the hurry of their spirits, 
unrestrained by the curb of reason, continues it to the end of their 
lives. 

SECT. IX. SUCCESSION AND UNIFORMITY 

SUCCESSION and uniformity of parts are what constitute the arti- 
ficial infinite, i. Succession; which is requisite that the parts may 
be continued so long and in such a direction, as by their frequent im- 
pulses on the sense to impress the imagination with an idea of their 
progress beyond their actual limits. 2. Uniformity; because if the 
figures of the parts should be changed, the imagination at every 
change finds a check; you are presented at every alteration with 
the termination of one idea, and the beginning of another; by which 
means it becomes impossible to continue that uninterrupted pro- 
gression, which alone can stamp on bounded objects the character 
of infinity. 1 It is in this kind of artificial infinity, I believe, we ought 
to look for the cause why a rotund has such a noble effect. For in 
a rotund, whether it be a building or a plantation, you can nowhere 
fix a boundary; turn which way you will, the same object still 
seems to continue, and the imagination has no rest. But the parts 
must be uniform, as well as circularly disposed, to give this figure its 
full force; because any difference, whether it be in the disposition, 
or in the figure, or even in the color of the parts, is highly preju- 
dicial to the idea of infinity, which every change must check and 
interrupt, at every alteration commencing a new series. On the 
same principles of succession and uniformity, the grand appear- 
ance of the ancient heathen temples, which were generally oblong 
forms, with a range of uniform pillars on every side, will be easily 
accounted for. From the same cause also may be derived the grand 
effect of the aisles in many of our own old cathedrals. The form of 
a cross used in some churches seems to me not so eligible as the 

1 Mr. Addison, in the Spectator, concerning the pleasures of imagination, thinks 
it is because in the rotund at one glance you see half the building. This I do not 
imagine to be the real cause. 



64 EDMUND BURKE 

parallelogram of the ancients; at least, I imagine it is not so proper 
for the outside. For, supposing the arms of the cross every way 
equal, if you stand in a direction parallel to any of the side walls, 
or colonnades, instead of a deception that makes the building more 
extended than it is, you are cut off from a considerable part (two- 
thirds) of its actual length; and to prevent all possibility of progres- 
sion, the arms of the cross, taking a new direction, make a right 
angle with the beam, and thereby wholly turn the imagination from 
the repetition of the former idea. Or suppose the spectator placed 
where he may take a direct view of such a building, what will be the 
consequence ? The necessary consequence will be, that a good part of 
the basis of each angle formed by the intersection of the arms of the 
cross, must be inevitably lost; the whole must of course assume a 
broken, unconnected figure; the lights must be unequal, here strong, 
and there weak; without that noble gradation which the perspective 
always effects on parts disposed uninterruptedly in a right line. Some 
or all of these objections will lie against every figure of a cross, in 
whatever view you take it. I exemplified them in the Greek cross, 
in which these faults appear the most strongly; but they appear in 
some degree in all sorts of crosses. Indeed there is nothing more 
prejudicial to the grandeur of buildings, than to abound in angles; 
a fault obvious in many; and owing to an inordinate thirst for 
variety, which, whenever it prevails, is sure to leave very little true 
taste. 

SECT. X. MAGNITUDE IN BUILDING 

To the sublime in building, greatness of dimension seems requi- 
site; for on a few parts, and those small, the imagination cannot 
rise to any idea of infinity. No greatness in the manner can effec- 
tually compensate for the want of proper dimensions. There is no 
danger of drawing men into extravagant designs by this rule; it 
carries its own caution along with it. Because too great a length in 
buildings destroys the purpose of greatness, which it was intended to 
promote; the perspective will lessen it in height as it gains in length; 
and will bring it at last to a point; turning the whole figure into a 
sort of triangle, the poorest in its effect of almost any figure that can 
be presented to the eye. I have ever observed, that colonnades and 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 65 

avenues of trees of a moderate length, were, without comparison, 
far grander, than when they were suffered to run to immense dis- 
tances. A true artist should put a generous deceit on the spectators, 
and effect the noblest designs by easy methods. Designs that are 
vast only by their dimensions, are always the sign of a common and 
low imagination. No work of art can be great, but as it deceives; to 
be otherwise is the prerogative of nature only. A good eye will fix 
the medium betwixt an excessive length or height, (for the same 
objection lies against both,) and a short or broken quantity; 
and perhaps it might be ascertained to a tolerable degree of exact- 
ness, if it was my purpose to descend far into the particulars of 
any art. 

SECT. XI. INFINITY IN PLEASING OBJECTS 

INFINITY, though of another kind, causes much of our pleasure in 
agreeable, as well as of our delight in sublime, images. The spring 
is the pleasantest of the seasons; and the young of most animals, 
though far from being completely fashioned, afford a more agree- 
able sensation than the full-grown; because the imagination is enter- 
tained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce 
in the present object of the sense. In unfinished sketches of drawing, 
I have often seen something which pleased me beyond the best finish- 
ing; and this I believe proceeds from the cause I have just now 
assigned. 

SECT. XII. DIFFICULTY 

ANOTHER 1 source of greatness is Difficulty. When any work seems 
to have required immense force and labor to effect it, the idea is 
grand. Stonehenge, neither for disposition nor ornament, has any- 
thing admirable; but those huge rude masses of stone, set on end, 
and piled each on other, turn the mind on the immense force 
necessary for such a work. Nay, the rudeness of the work increases 
this cause of grandeur, as it excludes the idea of art and contrivance; 
for dexterity produces another sort of effect, which is different 
enough from this. 

J Part IV. sect. 4-6. 



66 EDMUND BURKE 

SECT. XIII. MAGNIFICENCE 

Magnificence is likewise a source of the sublime. A great profu- 
sion of things, which are splendid or valuable in themselves, is mag- 
nificent. The starry heaven, though it occurs so very frequently to 
our view, never fails to excite an idea of grandeur. This cannot be 
owing to the stars themselves, separately considered. The number 
is certainly the cause. The apparent disorder augments the grandeur, 
for the appearance of care is highly contrary to our idea of magnifi- 
cence. Besides, the stars lie in such apparent confusion, as makes 
it impossible on ordinary occasions to reckon them. This gives them 
the advantage of a sort of infinity. In works of art, this kind of 
grandeur, which consists in multitude, is to be very courteously 
admitted; because a profusion of excellent things is not to be at- 
tained, or with too much difficulty; and because in many cases this 
splendid confusion would destroy all use, which should be attended 
to in most of the works of art with the greatest care; besides, it is to 
be considered, that unless you can produce an appearance of infinity 
by your disorder, you will have disorder only without magnificence. 
There are, however, a sort of fireworks, and some other things, that 
in this way succeed well, and are truly grand. There are also many 
descriptions in the poets and orators, which owe their sublimity to 
a richness and profusion of images, in which the mind is so dazzled 
as to make it impossible to attend to that exact coherence and agree- 
ment of the allusions, which we should require on every other occa- 
sion. I do not now remember a more striking example of this, than 
the description which is given of the king's army in the play of 
Henry the Fourth: 

All furnished, all in arms, 
All plumed like ostriches that with the wind 
Baited like eagles having lately bathed: 
As full of spirit as the month of May, 
And gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer, 
Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls. 
I saw young Harry with his beaver on 
Rise from the ground like feathered Mercury; 
And vaulted with such ease into his seat, 
As if an angel dropp'd down from the clouds 
To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 67 

In that excellent book, so remarkable for the vivacity o its de- 
scriptions as well as the solidity and penetration of its sentences, the 
Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, there is a noble panegyric on the high 
priest Simon the son of Onias; and it is a very fine example of the 
point before us: 

How was he honoured in the midst of the people, in his coming 
out of the sanctuary! He was as the morning star in the midst of a 
cloud, and as the moon at the full; as the sun shining upon the tem- 
ple of the Most High, and as the rainbow giving light in the bright 
clouds: and as the flower of roses in the spring of the year, as lilies 
by the rivers of waters, and as the frankincense tree in summer; as 
fire and incense in the censer, and as a vessel of gold set with precious 
stones; as a fair olive tree budding forth fruit, and as a cypress which 
groweth up to the clouds. When he put on the robe of honour, and 
was clothed with the perfection of glory, when he went up to the 
holy altar, he made the garment of holiness honourable. He himself 
stood by the hearth of the altar, compassed with his brethren round 
about; as a young cedar in L,ibanus, and as palm trees compassed 
they him about. So were all the sons of Aaron in their glory, and 
the oblations of the Lord in their hands, &c. 

SECT. XIV. LIGHT 

HAVING considered extension, so far as it is capable of raising ideas 
of greatness; colour comes next under consideration. All colours 
depend on light. Light therefore ought previously to be examined; 
and with its opposite, darkness. With regard to light, to make it a 
cause capable of producing the sublime, it must be attended with 
some circumstances, besides its bare faculty of showing other objects. 
Mere light is too common a thing to make a strong impression on 
the mind, and without a strong impression nothing can be sublime. 
But such a light as that of the sun, immediately exerted on the eye, 
as it overpowers the sense, is a very great idea. Light of an inferior 
strength to this, if it moves with great celerity, has the same power; 
for lightning is certainly productive of grandeur, which it owes 
chiefly to the extreme velocity of its motion. A quick transition from 
light to darkness, or from darkness to light, has yet a greater effect. 



68 EDMUND BURKE 

But darkness is more productive of sublime ideas than light. Our 
great poet was convinced of this; and indeed so full was he of this 
idea, so entirely possessed with the power of a well-managed dark- 
ness, that in describing the appearance of the Deity, amidst that 
profusion of magnificent images, which the grandeur of his subject 
provokes him to pour out upon every side, he is far from forgetting 
the obscurity which surrounds the most incomprehensible of all 
beings, but 

With majesty of darkness round 
Circles his throne. 

And what is no less remarkable, our author had the secret of pre- 
serving this idea, even when he seemed to depart the farthest from 
it, when he describes the light and glory which flows from the Divine 
presence; a light which by its very excess is converted into a species 
of darkness. 

Dar\ with excessive light thy skirts appear. 

Here is an idea not only poetical in a high degree, but strictly and 
philosophically just. Extreme light, by overcoming the organs of 
sight, obliterates all objects, so as in its effect exactly to resemble 
darkness. After looking for some time at the sun, two black spots, 
the impression which it leaves, seem to dance before our eyes. Thus 
are two ideas as opposite as can be imagined reconciled in the ex- 
tremes of both; and both, in spite of their opposite nature, brought 
to concur in producing the sublime. And this is not the only instance 
wherein the opposite extremes operate equally in favour of the 
sublime, which in all things abhors mediocrity. 

SECT. XV. LIGHT IN BUILDING 

As the management of light is a matter of importance in archi- 
tecture, it is worth inquiring, how far this remark is applicable to 
building. I think then, that all edifices calculated to produce an 
idea of the sublime, ought rather to be dark and gloomy, and this 
for two reasons; the first is, that darkness itself on other occasions 
is known by experience to have a greater effect on the passions than 
light. The second is, that to make an object very striking, we should 
make it as different as possible from the objects with which we have 






ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 69 

been immediately conversant; when therefore you enter a building, 
you cannot pass into a greater light than you had in the open air; 
to go into one some few degrees less luminous, can make only a 
trifling change; but to make the transition thorough 1 ^ striking, you 
ought to pass from the greatest light, to as much darkness as is con- 
sistent with the uses of architecture. At night the contrary rule will 
hold, but for the very same reason; and the more highly a room is 
then illuminated, the grander will the passion be. 

SECT. XVI. COLOUR CONSIDERED AS PRODUCTIVE OF THE SUBLIME 

AMONG colours, such as are soft or cheerful (except perhaps a 
strong red which is cheerful) are unfit to produce grand images. 
An immense mountain covered with a shining green turf, is nothing, 
in this respect, to one dark and gloomy; the cloudy sky is more 
grand than the blue; and night more sublime and solemn than day. 
Therefore in historical painting, a gay or gaudy drapery can never 
have a happy effect: and in buildings, when the highest degree of 
the sublime is intended, the materials and ornaments ought neither 
to be white, nor green, nor yellow, nor blue, nor a pale red, nor 
violet, nor spotted, but of sad and fuscous colours, as black, or brown, 
or deep purple, and the like. Much of gilding, mosaics, painting, 
or statues, contribute but little to the sublime. This rule need not be 
put in practice, except where an uniform degree of the most striking 
sublimity is to be produced, and that in every particular; for it ought 
to be observed, that this melancholy kind of greatness, though it be 
certainly the highest, ought not to be studied in all sorts of edifices, 
where yet grandeur must be studied: in such cases the sublimity 
must be drawn from the other sources; with a strict caution however 
against anything light and riant; as nothing so effectually deadens 
the whole taste of the sublime. 

SECT. XVII. SOUND AND LOUDNESS 

THE eye is not the only organ of sensation by which a sublime pas- 
sion may be produced. Sounds have a great power in these as in 
most other passions. I do not mean words, because words do not 
affect simply by their sounds, but by means altogether different. 
Excessive loudness alone is sufficient to overpower the soul, to sus- 



70 EDMUND BURKE 

pend its action, and to fill it with terror. The noise of vast cataracts, 
raging storms, thunder, or artillery, awakes a great and awful sensa- 
tion in the mind, though we can observe no nicety or artifice in 
those sorts of music. The shouting of multitudes has a similar effect; 
and, by the sole strength of the sound, so amazes and confounds the 
imagination, that, in this staggering and hurry of the mind, the best- 
established tempers can scarcely forbear being borne down, and 
joining in the common cry, and common resolution of the crowd. 

SECT. XVIII. SUDDENNESS 

A SUDDEN beginning or sudden cessation of sound of any consid- 
erable force, has the same power. The attention is roused by this; 
and the faculties driven forward, as it were, on their guard. What- 
ever, either in sights or sounds, makes the transition from one ex- 
treme to the other easy, causes no terror, and consequently can be 
no cause of greatness. In everything sudden and unexpected, we are 
apt to start; that is, we have a perception of danger, and our nature 
rouses us to guard against it. It may be observed that a single sound 
of some strength, though but of short duration, if repeated after in- 
tervals, has a grand effect. Few things are more awful than the 
striking of a great clock, when the silence of the night prevents the 
attention from being too much dissipated. The same may be said of 
a single stroke on a drum, repeated with pauses; and of the succes- 
sive firing of cannon at a distance. All the effects mentioned in this 
section have causes very nearly alike. 

SECT. XIX. INTERMITTING 

A LOW, tremulous, intermitting sound, though it seems in some 
respects opposite to that just mentioned, is productive of the sub- 
lime. It is worth while to examine this a little. The fact itself must 
be determined by every man's own experience and reflection. I have 
already observed, 1 that night increases our terror, more perhaps than 
anything else; it is our nature, when we do not know what may 
happen to us, to fear the worst that can happen; and hence it is, that 
uncertainty is so terrible, that we often seek to be rid of it, at the 
hazard of certain mischief. Now, some low, confused, uncertain 

J Sect. 3 . 



IBRABV 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL yi 

sounds, leave us in the same fearful anxiety concerning their causes, 
that no light, or an uncertain light, does concerning the objects that 
surround us. 

Quale per incertam lunam sub luce maligna 
Est iter in sylvis. 

A faint shadow of uncertain light, 
Like as a lamp, whose life doth fade away; 
Or as the moon clothed with cloudy night 
Doth show to him who walks in fear and great affright. 

SPENSER. 

But light now appearing and now leaving us, and so off and on, is 
even more terrible than total darkness: and a sort of uncertain sounds 
are, when the necessary dispositions concur, more alarming than a 
total silence. 

SECT. XX. THE CRIES OF ANIMALS 

SUCH sounds as imitate the natural inarticulate voices of men, or 
any animals in pain or danger, are capable of conveying great ideas; 
unless it be the well-known voice of some creature, on which we 
are used to look with contempt. The angry tones of wild beasts are 
equally capable of causing a great and awful sensation. 

Hinc exaudiri gemitus irceque leonum 
Vinda recusantum, et sera sub nocte rudentum; 
Setigerique sues, atque in prcesepibus ursi 
Scevire; et jormce magnorum ululare luporum. 

It might seem that these modulations of sound carry some connexion 
with the nature of the things they represent, and are not merely 
arbitrary; because the natural cries of all animals, even of those ani- 
mals with whom we have not been acquainted, never fail to make 
themselves sufficiently understood; this cannot be said of language. 
The modifications of sound, which may be productive of the sub- 
lime, are almost infinite. Those I have mentioned are only a few 
instances to show on what principles they are all built. 

SECT. XXI. SMELL AND TASTE. BITTERS AND STENCHES 

Smells and Tastes have some share too in ideas of greatness; but 
it is a small one, weak in its nature, and confined in its operations. 



72 EDMUND BURKE 

I shall only observe, that no smells or tastes can produce a grand 
sensation, except excessive bitters, and intolerable stenches. It is 
true, that these affections of the smell and taste, when they are in 
their full force, and lean directly upon the sensory, are simply pain- 
ful, and accompanied with no sort of delight; but when they are 
moderated, as in a description or narrative, they become sources of 
the sublime, as genuine as any other, and upon the very same prin- 
ciple of a moderated pain. "A cup of bitterness;" "to drain the bitter 
cup of fortune;" "the bitter apples of Sodom;" these are all ideas 
suitable to a sublime description. Nor is this passage of Virgil with- 
out sublimity, where the stench of the vapour in Albunea conspires 
so happily with the sacred horror and gloominess of that prophetic 
forest : 

At rex sollicitus monstris oracula Fauni 
Fatidici genitoris adit, lucosque sub alta 
Consulit Albunea, nemorum quce maxima sacro 
Fonte sonat; saevamque exhalat opaca Mephitim. 

In the sixth book, and in a very sublime description, the poisonous 
exhalation of Acheron is not forgotten, nor does it all disagree with 
the other images amongst which it is introduced: 

Spelunca alta fuit, vastoque immanis hiatu, 
Scrupea, tuta lacu nigro, nemorumque tenebris; 
Quam super haud ullce poterant impune volantes 
Tendere iter pennis: talis sese halitus atris 
Faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat. 

I have added these examples, because some friends, for whose judg- 
ment I have great deference, were of opinion that if the sentiment 
stood nakedly by itself, it would be subject, at first view, to burlesque 
and ridicule; but this I imagine would principally arise from con- 
sidering the bitterness and stench in company with mean and 
contemptible ideas, with which it must be owned they are often 
united; such an union degrades the sublime in all other instances 
as well as in those. But it is one of the tests by which the sublimity 
of an image is to be tried, not whether it becomes mean when asso- 
ciated with mean ideas; but whether, when united with images of 
an allowed grandeur, the whole composition is supported with dig- 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 73 

nity. Things which are terrible are always great; but when things 
possess disagreeable qualities, or such as have indeed some degree 
of danger, but of a danger easily overcome, they are merely odious; 
as toads and spiders. 

SECT. XXII. FEELING. PAIN 

OF feeling, little more can be said than that the idea of bodily 
pain, in all the modes and degrees of labour, pain, anguish, torment, 
is productive of the sublime; and nothing else in this sense can pro- 
duce it. I need not give here any fresh instances, as those given in 
the former sections abundantly illustrate a remark that, in reality, 
wants only an attention to nature, to be made by everybody. 

Having thus run through the causes of the sublime with reference 
to all the senses, my first observation (sect. 7) will be found very 
nearly true; that the sublime is an idea belonging to self-preserva- 
tion; that it is therefore one of the most affecting we have; that its 
strongest emotion is an emotion of distress; and that no pleasure 1 
from a positive cause belongs to it. Numberless examples, besides 
those mentioned, might be brought in support of these truths, and 
many perhaps useful consequences drawn from them 

Se d fuglt interea, fugit irrevocabile tempus, 
Singula dum capti circumvectamur amore. 

1 Vide Part I. sect. 6. 



PART III 

SECTION I. OF BEAUTY 

IT IS my design to consider beauty as distinguished from the 
sublime; and, in the course of the inquiry, to examine how 
far it is consistent with it. But previous to this, we must take 
a short review of the opinions already entertained of this quality; 
which I think are hardly to be reduced to any fixed principles; be- 
cause men are used to talk of beauty in a figurative manner, that 
is to say, in a manner extremely uncertain, and indeterminate. By 
beauty I mean that quality or those qualities in bodies, by which 
they cause love, or some passion similar to it. I confine this definition 
to the merely sensible qualities of things, for the sake of preserving 
the utmost simplicity in a subject, which must always distract us 
whenever we take in those various causes of sympathy which attach 
us to any persons or things from secondary considerations, and not 
from the direct force which they have merely on being viewed. I 
likewise distinguish love (by which I mean that satisfaction which 
arises to the mind upon contemplating anything beautiful, of what- 
soever nature it may be) from desire or lust; which is an energy of 
the mind, that hurries us on to the possession of certain objects, that 
do not afifect us as they are beautiful, but by means altogether differ- 
ent. We shall have a strong desire for a woman of no remarkable 
beauty; whilst the greatest beauty in men, or in other animals, 
though it causes love, yet excites nothing at all of desire. Which 
shows that beauty, and the passion caused by beauty, which I call 
love, is different from desire, though desire may sometimes operate 
along with it; but it is to this latter that we must attribute those 
violent and tempestuous passions, and the consequent emotions of 
the body, which attend what is called love in some of its ordi- 
nary acceptations, and not to the effects of beauty merely as it is 
such. 

74 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 75 

SECT. II. -PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN VEGETABLES 

BEAUTY hath usually been said to consist in certain proportions of 
parts. On considering the matter, I have great reason to doubt, 
whether beauty be at all an idea belonging to proportion. Propor- 
tion relates almost wholly to convenience, as every idea of order 
seems to do; and it must therefore be considered as a creature of 
the understanding, rather than a primary cause acting on the senses 
and imagination. It is not by the force of long attention and inquiry 
that we find any object to be beautiful; beauty demands no assistance 
from our reasoning; even the will is unconcerned; the appearance of 
beauty as effectually causes some degree of love in us, as the appli- 
cation of ice or fire produces the ideas of heat or cold. To gain 
something like a satisfactory conclusion in this point, it were well 
to examine, what proportion is; since several who make use of that 
word do not always seem to understand very clearly the force of the 
term, nor to have very distinct ideas concerning the thing itself. 
Proportion is the measure of relative quantity. Since all quantity is 
divisible, it is evident that every distinct part, into which any quan- 
tity is divided, must bear some relation to the other parts, or to the 
whole. These relations give an origin to the idea of proportion. 
They are discovered by mensuration, and they are the objects of 
mathematical inquiry. But whether any part of any determinate 
quantity be a fourth, or a fifth, or a sixth, or a moiety of the whole; 
or whether it be of equal length with any other part, or double its 
length, or but one half, is a matter merely indifferent to the mind; 
it stands neuter in the question; and it is from this absolute indiffer- 
ence and tranquillity of the mind, that mathematical speculations 
derive some of their most considerable advantages; because there is 
nothing to interest the imagination; because the judgment sits free 
and unbiassed to examine the point. All proportions, every arrange- 
ment of quantity, is alike to the understanding, because the same 
truths result to it from all; from greater, from lesser, from equality 
and inequality. But surely beauty is no idea belonging to mensura- 
tion; nor has it anything to do with calculation and geometry. If 
it had, we might then point out some certain measures which we 
could demonstrate to be beautiful, either as simply considered, or 



76 EDMUND BURKE 

as relating to others; and we could call in those natural objects, for 
whose beauty we have no voucher but the sense, to this happy stand- 
ard, and confirm the voice of our passions by the determination of 
our reason. But since we have not this help, let us see whether pro- 
portion can in any sense be considered as the cause of beauty, as 
hath been so generally, and by some so confidently, affirmed. If 
proportion be one of the constituents of beauty, it must derive that 
power either from some natural properties inherent in certain 
measures, which operate mechanically; from the operation of cus- 
tom; or from the fitness which some measures have to answer some 
particular ends of conveniency. Our business therefore is to inquire, 
whether the parts of those objects, which are found beautiful in the 
vegetable or animal kingdoms, are constantly so formed accord- 
ing to such certain measures, as may serve to satisfy us that their 
beauty results from those measures, on the principle of a natural 
mechanical cause; or from custom; or, in fine, from their fitness for 
any determinate purposes. I intend to examine this point under 
each of these heads in their order. But before I proceed further, I 
hope it will not be thought amiss, if I lay down the rules which 
governed me in this inquiry, and which have misled me in it, if I 
have gone astray, i. If two bodies produce the same or a similar 
effect on the mind, and on examination they are found to agree in 
some of their properties, and to differ in others; the common effect 
is to be attributed to the properties in which they agree, and not to 
those in which they differ. 2. Not to account for the effect of a 
natural object from the effect of an artificial object. 3. Not to account 
for the effect of any natural object from a conclusion of our reason 
concerning its uses, if a natural cause may be assigned. 4. Not to 
admit any determinate quantity, or any relation of quantity, as the 
cause of a certain effect, if the effect is produced by different or op- 
posite measures and relations; or if these measures and relations 
may exist, and yet the effect may not be produced. These are the 
rules which I have chiefly followed, whilst I examined into the 
power of proportion considered as a natural cause; and these, if he 
thinks them just, I request the reader to carry with him throughout 
the following discussion; whilst we inquire in the first place, in what 
things we find this quality of beauty; next, to see whether in these 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 77 

we can find any assignable proportions, in such a manner as ought 
to convince us that our idea of beauty results from them. We shall 
consider this pleasing power, as it appears in vegetables, in the in- 
ferior animals, and in man. Turning our eyes to the vegetable 
creation, we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers; but flowers 
are almost of every sort of shape, and of every sort of disposition; 
they are turned and fashioned into an infinite variety of forms; and 
from these forms botanists have given them their names, which 
are almost as various. What proportion do we discover between 
the stalks and the leaves of flowers, or between the leaves and the 
pistils? How does the slender stalk of the rose agree with the bulky 
head under which it bends? But the rose is a beautiful flower; and 
can we undertake to say that it does not owe a great deal of its beauty 
even to that disproportion: the rose is a large flower, yet it grows 
upon a small shrub; the flower of the apple is very small, and grows 
upon a large tree; yet the rose and the apple blossom are both beauti- 
ful, and the plants that bear them are most engagingly attired, not- 
withstanding this disproportion. What by general consent is allowed 
to be a more beautiful object than an orange-tree, flourishing at 
once with its leaves, its blossoms, and its fruit ? but it is in vain that 
we search here for any proportion between the height, the breadth, 
or anything else concerning the dimensions of the whole, or con- 
cerning the relation of the particular parts to each other. I grant 
that we may observe, in many flowers, something of a regular figure, 
and of a methodical disposition of the leaves. The rose has such a 
figure and such a disposition of its petals; but in an oblique view, 
when this figure is in a good measure lost, and the order of the 
leaves confounded, it yet retains its beauty; the rose is even more 
beautiful before it is full blown; in the bud, before this exact figure 
is formed; and this is not the only instance wherein method and 
exactness, the soul of proportion, are found rather prejudicial than 
serviceable to the cause of beauty. 

SECT. III. PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN ANIMALS 

THAT proportion has but a small share in the formation of beauty, 
is full as evident among animals. Here the greatest variety of 
shapes and dispositions of parts are well fitted to excite this idea. 



78 EDMUND BURKE 

The swan, confessedly a beautiful bird, has a neck longer than the 
rest of his body, and but a very short tail: is this a beautiful propor- 
tion? We must allow that it is. But then what shall we say to the 
peacock, who has comparatively but a short neck, with a tail longer 
than the neck and the rest of the body taken together? How many 
birds are there that vary infinitely from each of these standards, and 
from every other which you can fix; with proportions different, and 
often directly opposite to each other! and yet many of these birds 
are extremely beautiful; when upon considering them we find noth- 
ing in any one part that might determine us, a priori, to say what the 
others ought to be, nor indeed to guess anything about them, but 
what experience might show to be full of disappointment and mis- 
take. And with regard to the colours either of birds or flowers, for 
there is something similar in the colouring of both, whether they are 
considered in their extension or gradation, there is nothing of pro- 
portion to be observed. Some are of but one single colour, others 
have all the colours of the rainbow; some are of the primary colours, 
others are of the mixt; in short, an attentive observer may soon con- 
clude, that there is as little of proportion in the colouring as in the 
shapes of these objects. Turn next to beasts; examine the head of a 
beautiful horse; find what proportion that bears to his body, and to 
his limbs, and what relations these have to each other; and when 
you have settled these proportions as a standard of beauty, then take 
a dog or cat, or any other animal, and examine how far the same 
proportions between their heads and their necks, between those and 
the body, and so on, are found to hold. I think we may safely say, 
that they differ in every species, yet that there are individuals, found 
in a great many species so differing, that have a very striking beauty. 
Now, if it be allowed that very different and even contrary forms 
and dispositions are consistent with beauty, it amounts I believe to 
a concession, that no certain measures, operating from a natural prin- 
ciple, are necessary to produce it; at least so far as the brute species 
is concerned. 

SECT. IV. PROPORTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY IN THE HUMAN SPECIES 

THERE are some parts of the human body that are observed to hold 
certain proportions to each other; but before it can be proved that 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 79 

the efficient cause of beauty lies in these, it must be shown, that 
wherever these are found exact, the person to whom they belong is 
beautiful: I mean in the effect produced on the view, either of any 
member distinctly considered, or of the whole body together. It 
must be likewise shown, that these parts stand in such a relation to 
each other, that the comparison between them may be easily made, 
and that the affection of the mind may naturally result from it. For 
my part, I have at several times very carefully examined many of 
those proportions, and found them hold very nearly or altogether 
alike in many subjects, which were not only very different from 
one another, but where one has been very beautiful, and the other 
very remote from beauty. With regard to the parts which are found 
so proportioned, they are often so remote from each other, in situa- 
tion, nature, and office, that I cannot see how they admit of any 
comparison, nor consequently how any effect owing to proportion 
can result from them. The neck, say they, in beautiful bodies, should 
measure with the calf of the leg; it should likewise be twice the cir- 
cumference of the wrist. And an infinity of observations of this kind 
are to be found in the writings and conversations of many. But what 
relation has the calf of the leg to the neck; or either of these parts 
to the wrist? These proportions are certainly to be found in hand- 
some bodies. They are as certainly in ugly ones; as any who will 
take the pains to try may find. Nay, I do not know but they may be 
least perfect in some of the most beautiful. You may assign any 
proportion you please to every part of the human body; and I under- 
take that a painter shall religiously observe them all, and not- 
withstanding produce, if he pleases, a very ugly figure. The same 
painter shall considerably deviate from these proportions, and pro- 
duce a very beautiful one. And indeed it may be observed in the 
master-pieces of the ancient and modern statuary, that several of 
them differ very widely from the proportions of others, in parts very 
conspicuous and of great consideration; and that they differ no less 
from the proportions we find in living men, of forms extremely 
striking and agreeable. And after all, how are the partisans of pro- 
portional beauty agreed amongst themselves about the proportions 
of the human body? Some hold it to be seven heads; some make it 
eight; whilst others extend it even to ten; a vast difference in such 



80 EDMUND BURKE 

a small number of divisions! Others take other methods of estimat- 
ing the proportions, and all with equal success. But are these propor- 
tions exactly the same in all handsome men? or are they at all the 
proportions found in beautiful women? Nobody will say that they 
are; yet both sexes are undoubtedly capable of beauty, and the fe- 
male of the greatest; which advantage I believe will hardly be 
attributed to the superior exactness of proportion in the fair sex. Let 
us rest a moment on this point; and consider how much difference 
there is between the measures that prevail in many similar parts of 
the body, in the two sexes of this single species only. If you assign 
any determinate proportions to the limbs of a man, and if you limit 
human beauty to these proportions, when you find a woman who 
differs in the make and measures of almost every part, you must 
conclude her not to be beautiful, in spite of the suggestions of your 
imagination; or, in obedience to your imagination, you must re- 
nounce your rules; you must lay by the scale and compass, and look 
out for some other cause of beauty. For if beauty be attached to 
certain measures which operate from a principle in nature, why 
should similar parts with different measures of proportion be found 
to have beauty, and this too in the very same species? But to open 
our view a little, it is worth observing, that almost all animals have 
parts of very much the same nature, and destined nearly to the same 
purposes; a head, neck, body, feet, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth; yet 
Providence to provide in the best manner for their several wants, 
and to display the riches of his wisdom and goodness in his creation, 
has worked out of these few and similar organs and members, a di- 
versity hardly short of infinite in their disposition, measures, and 
relation. But, as we have before observed, amidst this infinite diver- 
sity, one particular is common to many species: several of the 
individuals which compose them are capable of affecting us with a 
sense of loveliness; and whilst they agree in producing this effect, 
they differ extremely in the relative measures of those parts which 
have produced it. These considerations were sufficient to induce 
me to reject the notion of any particular proportions that operated 
by nature to produce a pleasing effect; but those who will agree with 
me with regard to a particular proportion, are strongly prepossessed 
in favour of one more indefinite. They imagine, that although beauty 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 8 1 

in general is annexed to no certain measures common to the several 
kinds of pleasing plants and animals; yet that there is a certain pro- 
portion in each species absolutely essential to the beauty of that 
particular kind. If we consider the animal world in general, we find 
beauty confined to no certain measures: but as some peculiar meas- 
ure and relation of parts is what distinguishes each peculiar class 
of animals, it must of necessity be, that the beautiful in each kind 
will be found in the measures and proportions of that kind; for 
otherwise it would deviate from its proper species, and become in 
some sort monstrous: however, no species is so strictly confined to 
any certain proportions, that there is not a considerable variation 
amongst the individuals; and as it has been shown of the human, 
so it may be shown of the brute kinds, that beauty is found indiffer- 
ently in all the proportions which each kind can admit, without 
quitting its common form; and it is this idea of a common form that 
makes the proportion of parts at all regarded, and not the operation 
of any natural cause: indeed a little consideration will make it ap- 
pear, that it is not measure, but manner, that creates all the beauty 
which belongs to shape. What light do we borrow from these 
boasted proportions, when we study ornamental design? It seems 
amazing to me, that artists, if they were as well convinced as they 
pretend to be, that proportion is a principal cause of beauty, have 
not by them at all times accurate measurements of all sorts of 
beautiful animals to help them to proper proportions, when they 
would contrive anything elegant; especially as they frequently assert 
that it is from an observation of the beautiful in nature they direct 
their practice. I know that it has been said long since, and echoed 
backward and forward from one writer to another a thousand times, 
that the proportions of building have been taken from those of the 
human body. To make this forced analogy complete, they represent 
a man with his arms raised and extended at full length, and then 
describe a sort of square, as it is formed by passing lines along the 
extremities of this strange figure. But it appears very clearly to me, 
that the human figure never supplied the architect with any of his 
ideas. For, in the first place, men are very rarely seen in this strained 
posture; it is not natural to them; neither is it at all becoming. 
Secondly, the view of the human figure so disposed, does not 



82 EDMUND BURKE 

naturally suggest the idea of a square, but rather of a cross; as that 
large space between the arms and the ground must be filled with 
something before it can make anybody think of a square. Thirdly, 
several buildings are by no means of the form of that particular 
square, which are notwithstanding planned by the best architects, 
and produce an effect altogether as good, and perhaps a better. And 
certainly nothing could be more unaccountably whimsical, than for 
an architect to model his performance by the human figure, since 
no two things can have less resemblance or analogy, than a man and 
a house, or temple: do we need to observe, that their purposes are 
entirely different ? What I am apt to suspect is this: that these 
analogies were devised to give a credit to the work of art, by show- 
ing a conformity between them and the noblest works in nature; 
not that the latter served at all to supply hints for the perfection of 
the former. And I am the more fully convinced, that the patrons 
of proportion have transferred their artificial ideas to nature, and 
not borrowed from thence the proportions they use in works of art; 
because in any discussion of this subject they always quit as soon 
as possible the open field of natural beauties, the animal and vege- 
table kingdoms, and fortify themselves within the artificial lines and 
angles of architecture. For there is in mankind an unfortunate pro- 
pensity to make themselves, their views, and their works, the 
measure of excellence in everything whatsoever. Therefore, having 
observed that their dwellings were most commodious and firm when 
they were thrown into regular figures, with parts answerable to 
each other; they transferred these ideas to their gardens; they turned 
their trees into pillars, pyramids, and obelisks; they formed their 
hedges into so many green walls, and fashioned their walks into 
squares, triangles, and other mathematical figures, with exactness 
and symmetry; and they thought, if they were not imitating, they 
were at least improving nature, and teaching her to know her busi- 
ness. But nature has at last escaped from their discipline and their 
fetters; and our gardens, if nothing else, declare we begin to feel 
that mathematical ideas are not the true measures of beauty. And 
surely they are full as little so in the animal as the vegetable world. 
For is it not extraordinary, that in these fine descriptive pieces, these 
innumerable odes and elegies, which are in the mouths of all the 






ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 83 

world, and many of which have been the entertainment of ages, that 
in these pieces which describe love with such a passionate energy, and 
represent its object in such an infinite variety of lights, not one word is 
said of proportion, if it be, what some insist it is, the principal compo- 
nent of beauty; whilst, at the same time, several other qualities are 
very frequently and warmly mentioned ? But if proportion has not 
this power, it may appear odd how men came originally to be so pre- 
possessed in its favour. It arose, I imagine, from the fondness I have 
just mentioned, which men bear so remarkably to their own works 
and notions; it arose from false reasonings on the effects of the 
customary figure of animals; it arose from the Platonic theory of 
fitness and aptitude. For which reason, in the next section, I shall 
consider the effects of custom in the figure of animals; and after- 
wards the idea of fitness: since, if proportion does not operate by a 
natural power attending some measures, it must be either by custom, 
or the idea of utility; there is no other way. 

SECT. V. PROPORTION FURTHER CONSIDERED 

IF I am not mistaken, a great deal of the prejudice in favour of 
proportion has arisen, not so much from the observation of any 
certain measures found in beautiful bodies, as from a wrong idea 
of the relation which deformity bears to beauty, to which it has been 
considered as the opposite; on this principle it was concluded, that 
where the causes of deformity were removed, beauty must naturally 
and necessarily be introduced. This I believe is a mistake. For 
deformity is opposed not to beauty, but to the complete common 
form. If one of the legs of a man be found shorter than the other, 
the man is deformed; because there is something wanting to com- 
plete the whole idea we form of a man; and this has the same effect 
in natural faults, as maiming and mutilation produce from accidents. 
So if the back be humped, the man is deformed; because his back has 
an unusual figure, and what carries with it the idea of some disease 
or misfortune. So if a man's neck be considerably longer or shorter 
than usual, we say he is deformed in that part, because men are not 
commonly made in that manner. But surely every hour's experience 
may convince us, that a man may have his legs of an equal length, 
and resembling each other in all respects, and his neck of a just size, 



84 EDMUND BURKE 

and his back quite straight, without having at the same time the 
least perceivable beauty. Indeed beauty is so far from belonging to 
the idea of custom, that in reality what affects us in that manner is 
extremely rare and uncommon. The beautiful strikes us as much 
by its novelty as the deformed itself. It is thus in those species of 
animals with which we are acquainted; and if one of a new species 
were represented, we should by no means wait until custom had 
settled an idea of proportion, before we decided concerning its beauty 
or ugliness: which shows that the general idea of beauty can be no 
more owing to customary than to natural proportion. Deformity 
arises from the want of the common proportions; but the necessary 
result of their existence in any object is not beauty. If we suppose 
proportion in natural things to be relative to custom and use, the 
nature of use and custom will show, that beauty, which is a positive 
and powerful quality, cannot result from it. We are so wonderfully 
formed, that, whilst we are creatures vehemently desirous of novelty, 
we are as strongly attached to habit and custom. But it is the nature 
of things which hold us by custom, to affect us very little whilst we 
are in possession of them, but strongly when they are absent. I 
remember to have frequented a certain place every day for a long 
time together; and I may truly say, that so far from finding pleasure 
in it, I was affected with a sort of weariness and disgust; I came, I 
went, I returned, without pleasure; yet if by any means I passed by 
the usual time of my going thither, I was remarkably uneasy, and 
was not quiet till I had got into my old track. They who use snuff, 
take it almost without being sensible that they take it, and the acute 
sense of smell is deadened, so as to feel hardly anything from so 
sharp a stimulus; yet deprive the snuff-taker of his box, and he is 
the most uneasy mortal in the world. Indeed so far are use and habit 
from being causes of pleasure, merely as such, that the effect of 
constant use is to make all things of whatever kind entirely un- 
affecting. For as use at last takes off the painful effect of many 
things, it reduces the pleasurable effect in others in the same man- 
ner, and brings both to a sort of mediocrity and indifference. Very 
justly is use called a second nature; and our natural and common 
state is one of absolute indifference, equally prepared for pain or 
pleasure. But when we are thrown out of this state, or deprived of 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 85 

anything requisite to maintain us in it; when this chance does not 
happen by pleasure from some mechanical cause, we are always 
hurt. It is so with the second nature, custom, in all things which 
relate to it. Thus the want of the usual proportions in men and other 
animals is sure to disgust, though their presence is by no means any 
cause of real pleasure. It is true, that the proportions laid down as 
causes of beauty in the human body, are frequently found in beauti- 
ful ones, because they are generally found in all mankind; but if it 
can be shown too, that they are found without beauty, and that 
beauty frequently exists without them, and that this beauty, where 
it exists, always can be assigned to other less equivocal causes, it will 
naturally lead us to conclude, that proportion and beauty are not 
ideas of the same nature. The true opposite to beauty is not dis- 
proportion or deformity, but ugliness: and as it proceeds from causes 
opposite to those of positive beauty, we cannot consider it until we 
come to treat of that. Between beauty and ugliness there is a sort 
of mediocrity, in which the assigned proportions are most commonly 
found; but this has no effect upon the passions. 

SECT. VI. FITNESS NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY 

IT is said that the idea of utility, or of a part's being well adapted 
to answer its end, is the cause of beauty, or indeed beauty itself. 
If it were not for this opinion, it had been impossible for the doc- 
trine of proportion to have held its ground very long; the world 
would be soon weary of hearing of measures which related to noth- 
ing, either of a natural principle, or of a fitness to answer some end; 
the idea which mankind most commonly conceive of proportion, is 
the suitableness of means to certain ends, and, where this is not the 
question, very seldom trouble themselves about the effect of different 
measures of things. Therefore it was necessary for this theory to 
insist, that not only artificial but natural objects took their beauty 
from the fitness of the parts for their several purposes. But in 
framing this theory, I am apprehensive that experience was not suf- 
ficiently consulted. For, on that principle, the wedge-like snout of 
a swine, with its tough cartilage at the end, the little sunk eyes, and 
the whole make of the head, so well adapted to its offices of digging 
and rooting, would be extremely beautiful. The great bag hanging 



86 EDMUND BURKE 

to the bill of a pelican, a thing highly useful to this animal, would 
be likewise as beautiful in our eyes. The hedge-hog, so well secured 
against all assaults by his prickly hide, and the porcupine with his 
missile quills, would be then considered as creatures of no small 
elegance. There are few animals whose parts are better contrived 
than those of the monkey; he has the hands of a man, joined to the 
springy limbs of a beast; he is admirably calculated for running, 
leaping, grappling, and climbing; and yet there are few animals 
which seem to have less beauty in the eyes of all mankind. I need 
say little on the trunk of the elephant, of such various usefulness, 
and which is so far from contributing to his beauty. How well fitted 
is the wolf for running and leaping! how admirably is the lion armed 
for battle! but will any one therefore call the elephant, the wolf, and 
the lion, beautiful animals? I believe nobody will think the form 
of a man's leg so well adapted to running, as those of a horse, a dog, 
a deer, and several other creatures; at least they have not that appear- 
ance: yet, I believe, a well-fashioned human leg will be allowed to 
far exceed all these in beauty. If the fitness of parts was what con- 
stituted the loveliness of their form, the actual employment of them 
would undoubtedly much augment it; but this, though it is some- 
times so upon another principle, is far from being always the case. 
A bird on the wing is not so beautiful as when it is perched; nay, 
there are several of the domestic fowls which are seldom seen to 
fly, and which are nothing the less beautiful on that account; yet 
birds are so extremely different in their form from the beast and 
human kinds, that you cannot, on the principle of fitness, allow 
them anything agreeable, but in consideration of their parts being 
designed for quite other purposes. I never in my life chanced to see 
a peacock fly; and yet before, very long before, I considered any apti- 
tude in his form for the aerial life, I was struck with the extreme 
beauty which raises that bird above many of the best flying fowls 
in the world; though, for anything I saw, his way of living was much 
like that of the swine, which fed in the farm-yard along with him. 
The same may be said of cocks, hens, and the like; they are of the 
flying kind in figure; in their manner of moving not very different 
from men and beasts. To leave these foreign examples; if beauty in 
our own species was annexed to use, men would be much more 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 87 

lovely than women; and strength and agility would be considered 
as the only beauties. But to call strength by the name of beauty, to 
have but one denomination for the qualities of a Venus and Her- 
cules, so totally different in almost all respects, is surely a strange 
confusion of ideas, or abuse of words. The cause of this confusion, 
I imagine, proceeds from our frequently perceiving the parts of the 
human and other animal bodies to be at once very beautiful, and 
very well adapted to their purposes; and we are deceived by a soph- 
ism, which makes us take that for a cause which is only a concomit- 
ant: this is the sophism of the fly, who imagined he raised a great 
dust, because he stood upon the chariot that really raised it. The 
stomach, the lungs, the liver, as well as other parts, are incomparably 
well adapted to their purposes; yet they are far from having any 
beauty. Again, many things are very beautiful, in which it is im- 
possible to discern any idea of use. And I appeal to the first and 
most natural feelings of mankind, whether on beholding a beautiful 
eye, or a well-fashioned mouth, or a well-turned leg, any ideas of 
their being well fitted for seeing, eating, or running, ever present 
themselves. What idea of use is it that flowers excite, the most beau- 
tiful part of the vegetable world? It is true, that the infinitely wise 
and good Creator has, of his bounty, frequently joined beauty to 
those things which he has made useful to us: but this does not 
prove that an idea of use and beauty are the same thing, or that they 
are any way dependent on each other. 

SECT. VII. THE REAL EFFECTS OF FITNESS 

WHEN I excluded proportion and fitness from any share in 
beauty, I did not by any means intend to say that they were of no 
value, or that they ought to be disregarded in works of art. Works 
of art are the proper sphere of their power; and here it is that they 
have their full effect. Whenever the wisdom of our Creator in- 
tended that we should be affected with anything, he did not confide 
the execution of his design to the languid and precarious operation 
of our reason; but he endued it with powers and properties that 
prevent the understanding, and even the will; which, seizing upon 
the senses and imagination, captivate the soul before the understand- 
ing is ready either to join with them, or to oppose them. It is by a 



88 EDMUND BURKE 

long deduction, and much study, that we discover the adorable wis- 
dom of God in his works: when we discover it, the effect is very 
different, not only in the manner of acquiring it, but in its own 
nature, from that which strikes us without any preparation from the 
sublime or the beautiful. How different is the satisfaction of an 
anatomist, who discovers the use of the muscles and of the skin, the 
excellent contrivance of the one for the various movements of the 
body, and the wonderful texture of the other, at once a general 
covering, and at once a general outlet as well as inlet; how differ- 
ent is this from the affection which possesses an ordinary man at 
the sight of a delicate, smooth skin, and all the other parts of beauty, 
which require no investigation to be perceived! In the former case, 
whilst we look up to the Maker with admiration and praise, the 
object which causes it may be odious and distasteful; the latter very 
often so touches us by its power on the imagination, that we examine 
but little into the artifice of its contrivance; and we have need of a 
strong effort of our reason to disentangle our minds from the allure- 
ments of the object, to a consideration of that wisdom which invented 
so powerful a machine. The effect of proportion and fitness, at least 
so far as they proceed from a mere consideration of the work itself, 
produces approbation, the acquiescence of the understanding, but 
not love, nor any passion of that species. When we examine the 
structure of a watch, when we come to know thoroughly the use of 
every part of it, satisfied as we are with the fitness of the whole, 
we are far enough from perceiving anything like beauty in the watch- 
work itself; but let us look on the case, the labour of some curious 
artist in engraving, with little or no idea of use, we shall have a much 
livelier idea of beauty than we ever could have had from the watch 
itself, though the master-piece of Graham. In beauty, as I said, the 
effect is previous to any knowledge of the use; but to judge of pro- 
portion, we must know the end for which any work is designed. 
According to the end, the proportion varies. Thus there is one pro- 
portion of a tower, another of a house; one proportion of a gallery, 
another of a hall, another of a chamber. To judge of the propor- 
tions of these, you must be first acquainted with the purposes for 
which they were designed. Good sense and experience, acting to- 
gether, find out what is fit to be done in every work of art. We are 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 89 

rational creatures, and in all our works we ought to regard their 
end and purpose; the gratification of any passion, how innocent 
soever, ought only to be of a secondary consideration. Herein is 
placed the real power of fitness and proportion; they operate on the 
understanding considering them, which approves the work and 
acquiesces in it. The passions, and the imagination which princi- 
pally raises them, have here very little to do. When a room appears 
in its original nakedness, bare walls and a plain ceiling; let its pro- 
portion be ever so excellent, it pleases very little; a cold approbation 
is the utmost we can reach; a much worse proportioned room with 
elegant mouldings and fine festoons, glasses, and other merely 
ornamental furniture, will make the imagination revolt against the 
reason; it will please much more than the naked proportion of the 
first room, which the understanding has so much approved as ad- 
mirably fitted for its purposes. What I have here said and before 
concerning proportion, is by no means to persuade people absurdly to 
neglect the idea of use in the works of art. It is only to show that 
these excellent things, beauty and proportion, are not the same; not 
that they should either of them be disregarded. 

SECT. VIII. THE RECAPITULATION 

ON the whole; if such parts in human bodies as are found propor- 
tioned, were likewise constantly found beautiful, as they certainly 
are not; or if they were so situated, as that a pleasure might flow 
from the comparison, which they seldom are; or if any assignable 
proportions were found, either in plants or animals, which were 
always attended with beauty, which never was the case; or if, where 
parts were well adapted to their purposes, they were constantly 
beautiful, and when no use appeared, there was no beauty, which 
is contrary to all experience; we might conclude, that beauty con- 
sisted in proportion or utility. But since, in all respects, the case is 
quite otherwise; we may be satisfied that beauty does not depend on 
these, let it owe its origin to what else it will. 



9O EDMUND BURKE 

SECT. IX. PERFECTION NOT THE CAUSE OF BEAUTY 

THERE is another notion current, pretty closely allied to the former; 
that Perfection is the constituent cause of beauty. This opinion has 
been made to extend much further than to sensible objects. But in 
these, so far is perfection, considered as such, from being the cause 
of beauty, that this quality, where it is highest, in the female sex, 
almost always carries with it an idea of weakness and imperfection. 
Women are very sensible of this; for which reason, they learn to 
lisp, to totter in their walk, to counterfeit weakness, and even sick- 
ness. In all they are guided by nature. Beauty in distress is much 
the most affecting beauty. Blushing has little less power; and mod- 
esty in general, which is a tacit allowance of imperfection, is itself 
considered as an amiable quality, and certainly heightens every other 
that is so. I know it is in everybody's mouth, that we ought to love 
perfection. This is to me a sufficient proof, that it is not the proper 
object of love. Who ever said we ought to love a fine woman, or 
even any of these beautiful animals which please us? Here to be 
affected, there is no need of the concurrence of our will. 

SECT. X. HOW FAR THE IDEA OF BEAUTY MAY BE APPLIED TO THE 
QUALITIES OF THE MIND 

NOR is this remark in general less applicable to the qualities of the 
mind. Those virtues which cause admiration, and are of the sub- 
limer kind, produce terror rather than love; such as fortitude, justice, 
wisdom, and the like. Never was any man amiable by force of these 
qualities. Those which engage our hearts, which impress us with a 
sense of loveliness, are the softer virtues; easiness of temper, com- 
passion, kindness, and liberality; though certainly those latter are of 
less immediate and momentous concern to society, and of less dig- 
nity. But it is for that reason that they are so amiable. The great 
virtues turn principally on dangers, punishments, and troubles, and 
are exercised rather in preventing the worst mischiefs, than in dispens- 
ing favours; and are therefore not lovely, though highly venerable. 
The subordinate turn on reliefs, gratifications, and indulgences; and 
are therefore more lovely, though inferior in dignity. Those per- 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 91 

sons who creep into the hearts of most people, who are chosen as 
the companions of their softer hours, and their reliefs from care and 
anxiety, are never persons of shining qualities or strong virtues. 
It is rather the soft green of the soul on which we rest our eyes, that 
are fatigued with beholding more glaring objects. It is worth ob- 
serving how we feel ourselves affected in reading the characters of 
Caesar and Cato, as they are so finely drawn and contrasted in Sal- 
lust. In one the ignoscendo largiundo; in the other, nil largiundo. 
In one, the miseris perjugium; in the other, mails perniciem. In the 
latter we have much to admire, much to reverence, and perhaps some- 
thing to fear; we respect him, but we respect him at a distance. The 
former makes us familiar with him; we love him, and he leads us 
whither he pleases. To draw things closer to our first and most 
natural feelings, I will add a remark made upon reading this sec- 
tion by an ingenious friend. The authority of a father, so useful to 
our well-being, and so justly venerable upon all accounts, hinders us 
from having that entire love for him that we have for our mothers, 
where the parental authority is almost melted down into the mother's 
fondness and indulgence. But we generally have a great love for our 
grandfathers, in whom this authority is removed a degree from us, 
and where the weakness of age mellows it into something of a fem- 
inine partiality. 

SECT. XI. HOW FAR THE IDEA OF BEAUTY MAY BE APPLIED TO VIRTUE 

FROM what has been said in the foregoing section, we may easily 
see how far the application of beauty to virtue may be made with 
propriety. The general application of this quality to virtue, has a 
strong tendency to confound our ideas of things; and it has given 
rise to an infinite deal of whimsical theory; as the affixing the name 
of beauty to proportion, congruity, and perfection, as well as to quali- 
ties of things yet more remote from our natural ideas of it, and 
from one another, has tended to confound our ideas of beauty, and 
left us no standard or rule to judge by, that was not even more 
uncertain and fallacious than our own fancies. This loose and inac- 
curate manner of speaking has therefore misled us both in the theory 
of taste and of morals; and induced us to remove the science of our 



92 EDMUND BURKE 

duties from their proper basis, (our reason, our relations, and our 
necessities,) to rest it upon foundations altogether visionary and 
unsubstantial. 

SECT. XII. THE REAL CAUSE OF BEAUTY 

HAVING endeavoured to show what beauty is not, it remains that 
we should examine, at least with equal attention, in what it really 
consists. Beauty is a thing much too affecting not to depend upon 
some positive qualities. And, since it is no creature of our reason, 
since it strikes us without any reference to use, and even where no 
use at all can be discerned, since the order and method of nature 
is generally very different from our measures and proportions, we 
must conclude that beauty is, for the greater part, some quality in 
bodies acting mechanically upon the human mind by the inter- 
vention of the senses. We ought therefore to consider attentively 
in what manner those sensible qualities are disposed, in such things 
as by experience we find beautiful, or which excite in us the passion 
of love, or some correspondent affection. 

SECT. XIII. BEAUTIFUL OBJECTS SMALL 

THE most obvious point that presents itself to us in examining 
any object, is its extent or quantity. And what degree of extent pre- 
vails in bodies that are held beautiful, may be gathered from the 
usual manner of expression concerning it. I am told that, in most 
languages, the objects of love are spoken of under diminutive epi- 
thets. It is so in all languages of which I have any knowledge. In 
Greek the tor/ and other diminutive terms are almost always the 
terms of affection and tenderness. These diminutives were commonly 
added by the Greeks to the names of persons with whom they con- 
versed on terms of friendship and familiarity. Though the Romans 
were a people of less quick and delicate feelings, yet they naturally 
slid into the lessening termination upon the same occasions. An- 
ciently in the English language the diminishing ling was added to 
the names of persons and things that were the objects of love. Some 
we retain still, as darling, (or little dear,) and a few others. But, 
to this day, in ordinary conversation, it is usual to add the endearing 
name of little to everything we love: the French and Italians make 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 93 

use of these affectionate diminutives even more than we. In the 
animal creation, out of our own species, it is the small we are inclined 
to be fond of; little oirds, and some of the smaller kinds of beasts. A 
great beautiful thing is a manner of expression scarcely ever used; 
but that of a great ugly thing is very common. There is a wide 
difference between admiration and love. The sublime, which is the 
cause of the former, always dwells on great objects, and terrible; the 
latter on small ones, and pleasing; we submit to what we admire, 
but we love what submits to us; in one case we are forced, in the 
other we are flattered, into compliance. In short, the ideas of the 
sublime and the beautiful stand on foundations so different, that it 
is hard, I had almost said impossible, to think of reconciling them 
in the same subject, without considerably lessening the effect of the 
one or the other upon the passions. So that, attending to their 
quantity, beautiful objects are comparatively small. 

SECT. XIV. SMOOTHNESS 

THE next property constantly observable in such objects is smooth- 
ness: 1 a quality so essential to beauty, that I do not now recollect 
anything beautiful that is not smooth. In trees and flowers, smooth 
leaves are beautiful; smooth slopes of earth in gardens; smooth 
streams in the landscape; smooth coats of birds and beasts in animal 
beauties; in fine women, smooth skins; and in several sorts of orna- 
mental furniture, smooth and polished surfaces. A very considerable 
part of the effect of beauty is owing to this quality; indeed the most 
considerable. For, take any beautiful object, and give it a broken 
and rugged surface; and however well formed it may be in other 
respects, it pleases no longer. Whereas, let it want ever so many 
of the other constituents, if it wants not this, it becomes more pleas- 
ing than almost all the others without it. This seems to me so evi- 
dent, that I am a good deal surprised, that none who have handled 
the subject have made any mention of the quality of smoothness, in 
the enumeration of those that go to the forming of beauty. For in- 
deed any ruggedness, any sudden projection, any sharp angle, is in 
the highest degree contrary to that idea. 

1 Part IV. sect. 21. 



94 EDMUND BURKE 

SECT. XV. GRADUAL VARIATION 

BUT as perfectly beautiful bodies are not composed of angular 
parts, so their parts never continue long in the same right line. 1 They 
vary their direction every moment, and they change under the 
eye by a deviation continually carrying on, but for whose beginning 
or end you will find it difficult to ascertain a point. The view of a 
beautiful bird will illustrate this observation. Here we see the head 
increasing insensibly to the middle, from whence it lessens gradually 
until it mixes with the neck; the neck loses itself in a larger swell, 
which continues to the middle of the body, when the whole decreases 
again to the tail; the tail takes a new direction; but it soon varies 
its new course: it blends again with the other parts; and the line 
is perpetually changing, above, below, upon every side. In this 
description I have before me the idea of a dove; it agrees very well 
with most of the conditions of beauty. It is smooth and downy; its 
parts are (to use that expression) melted into one another; you are 
presented with no sudden protuberance through the whole, and yet 
the whole is continually changing. Observe that part of a beautiful 
woman where she is perhaps the most beautiful, about the neck and 
breasts; the smoothness; the softness; the easy and insensible swell; 
the variety of the surface, which is never for the smallest space the 
same; the deceitful maze, through which the unsteady eye slides 
giddily, without knowing where to fix or whither it is carried. Is not 
this a demonstration of that change of surface, continual, and yet 
hardly perceptible at any point, which forms one of the great con- 
stituents of beauty ? It gives me no small pleasure to find that I can 
strengthen my theory in this point, by the opinion of the very in- 
genious Mr. Hogarth; whose idea of the line of beauty I take in gen- 
eral to be extremely just. But the idea of variation, without attending 
so accurately to the manner of the variation, has led him to consider 
angular figures as beautiful: these figures, it is true, vary greatly; 
yet they vary in a sudden and broken manner; and I do not find any 
natural object which is angular, and at the same time beautiful. In- 
deed few natural objects are entirely angular. But I think those 
which approach the most nearly to it are the ugliest. I must add too, 

1 Part IV. sect. 23. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 95 

that, so far as I could observe of nature, though the varied line is 
that alone in which complete beauty is found, yet there is no par- 
ticular line which is always found in the most completely beautiful, 
and which is therefore beautiful in preference to all other lines. At 
least I never could observe it. 

SECT. XVI. DELICACY 

AN air of robustness and strength is very prejudicial to beauty. An 
appearance of delicacy, and even of fragility, is almost essential to 
it. Whoever examines the vegetable or animal creation will find this 
observation to be founded in nature. It is not the oak, the ash, or the 
elm, or any of the robust trees of the forest, which we consider as 
beautiful; they are awful and majestic; they inspire a sort of rev- 
erence. It is the delicate myrtle, it is the orange, it is the almond, it 
is the jasmine, it is the vine, which we look on as vegetable beauties. 
It is the flowery species, so remarkable for its weakness and mo- 
mentary duration, that gives us the liveliest idea of beauty and 
elegance. Among animals, the greyhound is more beautiful than the 
mastiff; and the delicacy of a gennet, a barb, or an Arabian horse, is 
much more amiable than the strength and stability of some horses of 
war or carriage. I need here say little of the fair sex, where I believe 
the point will be easily allowed me. The beauty of women is con- 
siderably owing to their weakness or delicacy, and is even enhanced 
by their timidity, a quality of mind analogous to it. I would not 
here be understood to say, that weakness betraying very bad health 
has any share in beauty; but the ill effect of this is not because it is 
weakness, but because the ill state of health, which produces such 
weakness, alters the other conditions of beauty; the parts in such a 
case collapse; the bright color, the lumen purpureum juventce, is 
gone; and the fine variation is lost in wrinkles, sudden breaks, and 
right lines. 

SECT. XVII. BEAUTY IN COLOUR 

As to the colours usually found in beautiful bodies, it may be 
somewhat difficult to ascertain them, because, in the several parts 
of nature, there is an infinite variety. However, even in this variety, 
we may mark out something on which to settle. First, the colours 



96 EDMUND BURKE 

of beautiful bodies must not be dusky or muddy, but clean and fair. 
Secondly, they must not be of the strongest kind. Those which seem 
most appropriated to beauty, are the milder of every sort; light 
greens; soft blues; weak whites; pink reds; and violets. Thirdly, if 
the colours be strong and vivid, they are always diversified, and the 
object is never of one strong colour; there are almost always such a 
number of them, (as in variegated flowers,) that the strength and 
glare of each is considerably abated. In a fine complexion, there is 
not only some variety in the colouring, but the colours: neither the 
red nor the white are strong and glaring. Besides, they are mixed 
in such a manner, and with such gradations, that it is impossible to 
fix the bounds. On the same principle it is, that the dubious colour 
in the necks and tails of peacocks, and about the heads of drakes, is 
so very agreeable. In reality, the beauty both of shape and colouring 
are as nearly related, as we can well suppose it possible for things of 
such different natures to be. 

SECT. XVIII. RECAPITULATION 

ON the whole, the qualities of beauty, as they are merely sensible 
qualities, are the following: First, to be comparatively small. Sec- 
ondly, to be smooth. Thirdly, to have a variety in the direction of 
the parts; but, fourthly, to have those parts not angular, but melted 
as it were into each other. Fifthly, to be of a delicate frame, without 
any remarkable appearance of strength. Sixthly, to have its colours 
clear and bright, but not very strong and glaring. Seventhly, or if 
it should have any glaring colour, to have it diversified with others. 
These are, I believe, the properties on which beauty depends; prop- 
erties that operate by nature, and are less liable to be altered by 
caprice, or confounded by a diversity of tastes, than any other. 

SECT. XIX. THE PHYSIOGNOMY 

THE physiognomy has a considerable share in beauty, especially in 
that of our own species. The manners give a certain determination 
to the countenance; which, being observed to correspond pretty 
regularly with them, is capable of joining the effect of certain agree- 
able qualities of the mind to those of the body. So that to form a 
finished human beauty, and to give it its full influence, the face 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 97 

must be expressive of such gentle and amiable qualities as correspond 
with the softness, smoothness, and delicacy of the outward form. 






SECT. XX. THE EYE 

I HAVE hitherto purposely omitted to speak of the eye, which has 
so great a share in the beauty of the animal creation, as it did not fall 
so easily under the foregoing heads, though in fact it is reducible to 
the same principles. I think, then, that the beauty of the eye consists, 
first, in its clearness; what coloured eye shall please most, depends 
a good deal on particular fancies; but none are pleased with an eye 
whose water (to use that term) is dull and muddy. 1 We are pleased 
with the eye in this view, on the principle upon which we like 
diamonds, clear water, glass, and such like transparent substances. 
Secondly, the motion of the eye contributes to its beauty, by con- 
tinually shifting its direction; but a slow and languid motion is 
more beautiful than a brisk one; the latter is enlivening; the former 
lovely. Thirdly, with regard to the union of the eye with the neigh- 
bouring parts, it is to hold the same rule that is given of other beauti- 
ful ones; it is not to make a strong deviation from the line of the 
neighbouring parts; nor to verge into any exact geometrical figure. 
Besides all this, the eye affects, as it is expressive of some qualities 
of the mind, and its principal power generally arises from this; so 
that what we have just said of the physiognomy is applicable here. 

SECT XXI. UGLINESS 

IT may perhaps appear like a sort of repetition of what we have 
before said, to insist here upon the nature of ugliness; as I imagine 
it to be in all respects the opposite to those qualities which we have 
laid down for the constituents of beauty. But though ugliness be 
the opposite to beauty, it is not the opposite to proportion and fitness. 
For it is possible that a thing may be very ugly with any proportions, 
and with a perfect fitness to any uses. Ugliness I imagine likewise 
to be consistent enough with an idea of the sublime. But I would 
by no means insinuate that ugliness of itself is a sublime idea, unless 
united with such qualities as excite a strong terror. 

1 Part IV. sect. 25. 



90 EDMUND BURKE 

SECT. XXII. GRACE 

Gracefulness is an idea not very different from beauty; it consists 
of much the same things. Gracefulness is an idea belonging to 
posture and motion. In both these, to be graceful, it is requisite that 
there be no appearance of difficulty; there is required a small inflec- 
tion of the body; and a composure of the parts in such a' manner, as 
not to encumber each other, not to appear divided by sharp and sud- 
den angles. In this ease, this roundness, this delicacy of attitude and 
motion, it is that all the magic of grace consists, and what is called 
its je ne s$ai quoi; as will be obvious to any observer, who considers 
attentively the Venus de Medicis, the Antinous, or any statue gen- 
erally allowed to be graceful in a high degree. 

SECT. XXIII. ELEGANCE AND SPECIOUSNESS 

WHEN any body is composed of parts smooth and polished with- 
out pressing upon each other, without showing any ruggedness or 
confusion, and at the same time affecting some regular shape, I call 
it elegant. It is closely allied to the beautiful, differing from it only 
in this regularity; which, however, as it makes a very material dif- 
ference in the affection produced, may very well constitute another 
species. Under this head I rank those delicate and regular works of 
art, that imitate no determinate object in nature, as elegant build- 
ings, and pieces of furniture. When any object partakes of the above- 
mentioned qualities, or of those of beautiful bodies, and is withal of 
great dimensions, it is full as remote from the idea of mere beauty; 
I call it fine or specious. 

SECT. XXIV. THE BEAUTIFUL IN FEELING 

THE foregoing description of beauty, so far as it is taken in by the 
eye, may be greatly illustrated by describing the nature of objects, 
which produce a similar effect through the touch. This I call the 
beautiful in Feeling. It corresponds wonderfully with what causes 
the same species of pleasure to the sight. There is a chain in all our 
sensations; they are all but different sorts of feelings calculated to be 
affected by various sorts of objects, but all to be affected after the 
same manner. All bodies that are pleasant to the touch, are so by the 






ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 99 

slightness of the resistance they make. Resistance is either to motion 
along the surface, or to the pressure of the parts on one another: if 
the former be slight, we call the body smooth; if the latter, soft. 
The chief pleasure we receive by feeling, is in the one or the other of 
these qualities; and if there be a combination of both, our pleasure is 
greatly increased. This is so plain, that it is rather more fit to illus- 
trate other things, than to be illustrated itself by an example. The 
next source of pleasure in this sense, as in every other, is the con- 
tinually presenting somewhat new; and we find that bodies which 
continually vary their surface, are much the most pleasant or beauti- 
ful to the feeling, as any one that pleases may experience. The third 
property in such objects is, that though the surface continually varies 
its direction, it never varies it suddenly. The application of anything 
sudden, even though the impression itself have little or nothing of 
violence, is disagreeable. The quick application of a finger a little 
warmer or colder than usual, without notice, makes us start; a slight 
tap on the shoulder, not expected, has the same effect. Hence it is 
that angular bodies, bodies that suddenly vary the direction of the 
outline, afford so little pleasure to the feeling. Every such change is 
a sort of climbing or falling in miniature; so that squares, triangles, 
and other angular figures, are neither beautiful to the sight nor feel- 
ing. Whoever compares his state of mind, on feeling soft, smooth, 
variegated, unangular bodies, with that in which he finds himself, 
on the view of a beautiful object, will perceive a very striking analogy 
in the effects of both; and which may go a good way towards dis- 
covering their common cause. Feeling and sight, in this respect, 
differ in but a few points. The touch takes in the pleasure of soft- 
ness, which is not primarily an object of sight; the sight, on the other 
hand, comprehends colour, which can hardly be made perceptible 
to the touch; the touch, again, has the advantage in a new idea of 
pleasure resulting from a moderate degree of warmth; but the eye 
triumphs in the infinite extent and multiplicity of its objects. But 
there is such a similitude in the pleasures of these senses, that I am 
apt to fancy, if it were possible that one might discern colour by 
feeling, (as it is said some blind men have done,) that the same 
colours, and the same disposition of colouring, which are found 
beautiful to the sight, would be found likewise most grateful to the 



IOO EDMUND BURKE 

touch. But, setting aside conjectures, let us pass to the other sense; 
of Hearing. 

SECT. XXV. THE BEAUTIFUL IN SOUNDS 

IN this sense we find an equal aptitude to be affected in a soft and 
delicate manner; and how far sweet or beautiful sounds agree with 
our descriptions of beauty in other senses, the experience of every one 
must decide. Milton has described this species of music in one of 
his juvenile poems. 1 I need not say that Milton was perfectly well 
versed in that art; and that no man had a finer ear, with a happier 
manner of expressing the affections of one sense by metaphors taken 
from another. The description is as follows: 

And ever against eating cares, 

Lap me in soft Lydian airs; 

In notes with many a winding bout 

Of linked sweetness long drawn out; 

With wanton heed, and giddy cunning, 

The melting voice through mazes running; 

Untwisting all the chains that tie 

The hidden soul of harmony. 

Let us parallel this with the softness, the winding surface, the un- 
broken continuance, the easy gradation of the beautiful in other 
things; and all the diversities of the several senses, with all their 
several affections, will rather help to throw lights from one another 
to finish one clear, consistent idea of the whole, than to obscure it by 
their intricacy and variety. 

To the above-mentioned description I shall add one or two re- 
marks. The first is; that the beautiful in music will not bear that 
loudness and strength of sounds, which may be used to raise other 
passions; nor notes which are shrill, or harsh, or deep; it agrees best 
with such as are clear, even, smooth, and weak. The second is; that 
great variety, and quick transitions from one measure or tone to 
another, are contrary to the genius of the beautiful in music. Such 
transitions 2 often excite mirth, or other sudden and tumultuous pas- 
sions; but not that sinking, that melting, that languor, which is the 
characteristical effect of the beautiful as it regards every sense. The 

1 L'Allegro. 
2 1 ne'er am merry, when I hear sweet music. SHAKESPEARE. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL IOI 

passion excited by beauty is in fact nearer to a species of melancholy, 
than to jollity and mirth. I do not here mean to confine music to any 
one species of notes, or tones, neither is it an art in which I can say 
I have any great skill. My sole design in this remark is, to settle a 
consistent idea of beauty. The infinite variety of the affections of 
the soul will suggest to a good head, and skilful ear, a variety of 
such sounds as are fitted to raise them. It can be no prejudice to this, 
to clear and distinguish some few particulars, that belong to the 
same class, and are consistent with each other, from the immense 
crowd of different, and sometimes contradictory, ideas, that rank 
vulgarly under the standard of beauty. And of these it is my inten- 
tion to mark such only of the leading points as show the conform- 
ity of the sense of Hearing with all the other senses, in the article of 
their pleasures. 

SECT. XXVI. TASTE AND SMELL 

THIS general agreement of the senses is yet more evident on mi- 
nutely considering those of taste and smell. We metaphorically apply 
the idea of sweetness to sights and sounds; but as the qualities of 
bodies, by which they are fitted to excite either pleasure or pain in 
these senses, are not so obvious as they are in the others, we shall 
refer an explanation of their analogy, which is a very close one, to 
that part, wherein we come to consider the common efficient cause 
of beauty, as it regards all the senses. I do not think anything better 
fitted to establish a clear and settled idea of visual beauty than this 
way of examining the similar pleasures of other senses; for one part 
is sometimes clear in one of the senses, that is more obscure in an- 
other; and where there is a clear concurrence of all, we may with 
more certainty speak of any one of them. By this means, they bear 
witness to each other; nature is, as it were, scrutinized; and we report 
nothing of her but what we receive from her own information. 

SECT. XXVII. THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL COMPARED 

ON closing this general view of beauty, it naturally occurs, that we 
should compare it with the sublime; and in this comparison there 
appears a remarkable contrast. For sublime objects are vast in 
their dimensions, beautiful ones comparatively small: beauty should 



102 EDMUND BURKE 

be smooth and polished; the great, rugged and negligent; beauty 
should shun the right line, yet deviate from it insensibly; the great 
in many cases loves the right line, and when it deviates it often makes 
a strong deviation: beauty should not be obscure; the great ought 
to be dark and gloomy: beauty should be light and delicate; the great 
ought to be solid, and even massive. They are indeed ideas o a 
very different nature, one being founded on pain, the other on 
pleasure; and however they may vary afterwards from the direct 
nature of their causes, yet these causes keep up an eternal distinc- 
tion between them, a distinction never to be forgotten by any whose 
business it is to affect the passions. In the infinite variety of natural 
combinations, we must expect to find the qualities of things the most 
remote imaginable from each other united in the same object. We 
must expect also to find combinations of the same kind in the works 
of art. But when we consider the power of an object upon our pas- 
sions, we must know that when anything is intended to affect the 
mind by the force of some predominant property, the affection pro- 
duced is like to be the more uniform and perfect, if all the other 
properties or qualities of the object be of the same nature, and tend- 
ing to the same design, as the principal. 

If black and white blend, soften, and unite 

A thousand ways, are there no black and white? 

If the qualities of the sublime and beautiful are sometimes found 
united, does this prove that they are the same; does it prove that 
they are any way allied; does it prove even that they are not opposite 
and contradictory? Black and white may soften, may blend; but 
they are not therefore the same. Nor, when they are so softened 
and blended with each other, or with different colours, is the power 
of black as black, or of white as white, so strong as when each stands 
uniform and distinguished. 



PART IV 

SECTION I. OF THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

WHEN I say I intend to inquire into the efficient cause of 
Sublimity and Beauty, I would not be understood to say, 
that I can come to the ultimate cause. I do not pretend that 
I shall ever be able to explain, why certain affections of the body 
produce such a distinct emotion of mind, and no other; or why the 
body is at all affected by the mind, or the mind by the body. A little 
thought will show this to be impossible. But I conceive, if we can 
discover what affections of the mind produce certain emotions of 
the body, and what distinct feelings and qualities of body shall pro- 
duce certain determinate passions in the mind, and no others, I 
fancy a great deal will be done; something not unuseful towards a 
distinct knowledge of our passions, so far at least as we have them 
at present under our consideration. This is all, I believe, we can do. 
If we could advance a step farther, difficulties would still remain, 
as we should be still equally distant from the first cause. When 
Newton first discovered the property of attraction, and settled its 
laws, he found it served very well to explain several of the most re- 
markable phenomena in nature; but yet, with reference to the gen- 
eral system of things, he could consider attraction but as an effect, 
whose cause at that time he did not attempt to trace. But when he 
afterwards began to account for it by a subtle elastic aether, this great 
man (if in so great a man it be not impious to discover anything 
like a blemish) seemed to have quitted his usual cautious manner of 
philosophizing; since, perhaps, allowing all that has been advanced 
on this subject to be sufficiently proved, I think it leaves us with as 
many difficulties as it found us. The great chain of causes, which 
links one to another, even to the throne of God himself, can never be 
unravelled by any industry of ours. When we go but one step 
beyond the immediate sensible qualities of things, we go out of our 

103 



104 EDMUND BURKE 

depth. All we do after is but a faint struggle, that shows we are in 
an element which does not belong to us. So that when I speak of 
cause, and efficient cause, I only mean certain affections of the mind, 
that cause certain changes in the body; or certain powers and prop- 
erties in bodies, that work a change in the mind. As if I were to 
explain the motion of a body falling to the ground, I would say it 
was caused by gravity; and I would endeavour to show after what 
manner this power operated, without attempting to show why it 
operated in this manner : or if I were to explain the effects of bodies 
striking one another by the common laws of percussion, I should not 
endeavour to explain how motion itself is communicated. 

SECT. II. ASSOCIATION 

IT is no small bar in the way of our inquiry into the cause of our 
passions, that the occasions of many of them are given, and that 
their governing motions are communicated at a time when we have 
not capacity to reflect on them; at a time of which all sort of mem- 
ory is worn out of our minds. For besides such things as affect us in 
various manners, according to their natural powers, there are associ- 
ations made at that early season, which we find it very hard after- 
wards to distinguish from natural effects. Not to mention the un- 
accountable antipathies which we find in many persons, we all find 
it impossible to remember when a steep became more terrible than 
a plain; or fire or water more terrible than a clod of earth; though 
all these are very probably either conclusions from experience, or 
arising from the premonitions of others; and some of them im- 
pressed, in all likelihood, pretty late. But as it must be allowed that 
many things affect us after a certain manner, not by any natural 
powers they have for that purpose, but by association; so it would be 
absurd, on the other hand, to say that all things affect us by associ- 
ation only; since some things must have been originally and natu- 
rally agreeable or disagreeable, from which the others derive their 
associated powers; and it would be, I fancy, to little purpose to look 
for the cause of our passions in association, until we fail of it in the 
natural properties of things. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 105 

SECT. III. CAUSE OF PAIN AND FEAR 

I HAVE before observed, 1 that whatever is qualified to cause terror 
is a foundation capable of the sublime; to which I add, that not 
only these, but many things from which we cannot probably appre- 
hend any danger, have a similar effect, because they operate in a 
similar manner. I observed too, 2 that whatever produces pleasure, 
positive and original pleasure, is fit to have beauty ingrafted on it. 
Therefore, to clear up the nature of these qualities, it may be neces- 
sary to explain the nature of pain and pleasure on which they depend. 
A man who suffers under violent bodily pain, (I suppose the most 
violent, because the effect may be the more obvious,) I say a man in 
great pain has his teeth set, his eyebrows are violently contracted, his 
forehead is wrinkled, his eyes are dragged inwards, and rolled with 
great vehemence, his hair stands on end, the voice is forced out in 
short shrieks and groans, and the whole fabric totters. Fear, or ter- 
ror, which is an apprehension of pain or death, exhibits exactly the 
same effects, approaching in violence to those just mentioned, in 
proportion to the nearness of the cause, and the weakness of the 
subject. This is not only so in the human species; but I have more 
than once observed in dogs, under an apprehension of punishment, 
that they have writhed their bodies, and yelped, and howled, as if 
they had actually felt the blows. From hence I conclude, that pain 
and fear act upon the same parts of the body, and in the same man- 
ner, though somewhat differing in degree; that pain and fear con- 
sist in an unnatural tension of the nerves; that this is sometimes 
accompanied with an unnatural strength, which sometimes sud- 
denly changes into an extraordinary weakness; that these effects 
often come on alternately, and are sometimes mixed with each other. 
This is the nature of all convulsive agitations, especially in weaker 
subjects, which are the most liable to the severest impressions of 
pain and fear. The only difference between pain and terror is, that 
things which cause pain operate on the mind by the intervention 
of the body; whereas things that cause terror generally affect the 
bodily organs by the operation of the mind suggesting the danger; 
but both agreeing, either primarily or secondarily, in producing a 

J Part I. sect. 8. 2 Part I. sect. 10. 



IO6 EDMUND BURKE 

tension, contraction, or violent emotion of the nerves, 1 they agree 
likewise in everything else. For it appears very clearly to me, from 
this, as well as from many other examples, that when the body is 
disposed, by any means whatsoever, to such emotions as it would 
acquire by the means of a certain passion; it will of itself excite some- 
thing very like that passion in the mind. 

SECT. IV. CONTINUED 

To this purpose Mr. Spon, in his Recherches d* Antiquite, gives 
us a curious story of the celebrated physiognomist Campanella. This 
man, it seems, had not only made very accurate observations on hu- 
man faces, but was very expert in mimicking such as were any way 
remarkable. When he had a mind to penetrate into the inclinations 
of those he had to deal with, he composed his face, his gesture, and 
his whole body, as nearly as he could into the exact similitude of the 
person he intended to examine; and then carefully observed what 
turn of mind he seemed to acquire by this change. So that, says my 
author, he was able to enter into the dispositions and thoughts of 
people as effectually as if he had been changed into the very men. I 
have often observed, that on mimicking the looks and gestures of 
angry, or placid, or frighted, or daring men, I have involuntarily 
found my mind turned to that passion, whose appearance I endeav- 
oured to imitate; nay, I am convinced it is hard to avoid it, though 
one strove to separate the passion from its correspondent gestures. 
Our minds and bodies are so closely and intimately connected, that 
one is incapable of pain or pleasure without the other. Campanella, 
of whom we have been speaking, could so abstract his attention from 
any sufferings of his body, that he was able to endure the rack itself 
without much pain; and in lesser pains everybody must have ob- 
served, that, when we can employ our attention on anything else, 
the pain has been for a time suspended: on the other hand, if by any 
means the body is indisposed to perform such gestures, or to be 
stimulated into such emotions, as any passion usually produces in 
it, that passion itself never can arise, though its cause should be never 

1 l do not here enter into the question debated among physiologists, whether 
pain be the effect of a contraction, or a tension of the nerves. Either will serve my 
purpose; for by tension, I mean no more than a violent pulling of the fibres, which 
compose any muscle or membrane, in whatever way this is done. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 1 07 

so strongly in action; though it should be merely mental, and im- 
mediately affecting none of the senses. As an opiate or spirituous 
liquors, shall suspend the operation of grief, or fear, or anger, in 
spite of all our efforts to the contrary; and this by inducing in the 
body a disposition contrary to that which it receives from these 
passions. 

SECT. V. HOW THE SUBLIME IS PRODUCED 

HAVING considered terror as producing an unnatural tension and 
certain violent emotions of the nerves; it easily follows, from what 
we have just said, that whatever is fitted to produce such a tension 
must be productive of a passion similar to terror, 1 and consequently 
must be a source of the sublime, though it should have no idea of 
danger connected with it. So that litde remains towards showing 
the cause of the sublime, but to show that the instances we have given 
of it in the second part relate to such things as are fitted by nature 
to produce this sort of tension, either by the primary operation of 
the mind or the body. With regard to such things as effect by the 
associated idea of danger, there can be no doubt but that they pro- 
duce terror, and act by some modification of that passion; and that 
terror, when sufficiently violent, raises the emotions of the body 
just mentioned, can as little be doubted. But if the sublime is built 
on terror, or some passion like it, which has pain for its object, it is 
previously proper to inquire how any species of delight can be de- 
rived from a cause so apparently contrary to it. I say delight, 
because, as I have often remarked, it is very evidently different in its 
cause, and in its own nature, from actual and positive pleasure. 

SECT. VI. HOW PAIN CAN BE A CAUSE OF DELIGHT 

PROVIDENCE has so ordered it, that a state of rest and inaction, how- 
ever it may flatter our indolence, should be productive of many in- 
conveniences; that it should generate such disorders, as may force 
us to have recourse to some labour, as a thing absolutely requisite 
to make us pass our lives with tolerable satisfaction; for the nature 
of rest is to suffer all the parts of our bodies to fall into a relaxation, 
that not only disables the members from performing their functions, 

1 Part II. sect. 2. 



IO8 EDMUND BURKE 

but takes away the vigorous tone of fibre which is requisite for 
carrying on the natural and necessary secretions. At the same time, 
that in this languid inactive state, the nerves are more liable to the 
most horrid convulsions, than when they are sufficiently braced and 
strengthened. Melancholy, dejection, despair, and often self-murder, 
is the consequence of the gloomy view we take of things in this re- 
laxed state of body. The best remedy for all these evils is exercise 
or labour; and labour is a surmounting of difficulties, an exertion of 
the contracting power of the muscles; and as such resembles pain, 
which consists in tension or contraction, in everything but degree. 
Labour is not only requisite to preserve the coarser organs in a state 
fit for their functions; but it is equally necessary to those finer and 
more delicate organs, on which, and by which, the imagination, and 
perhaps the other mental powers, act. Since it is probable, that not 
only the inferior parts of the soul, as the passions are called, but 
the understanding itself, makes use of some fine corporeal instru- 
ments in its operation; though what they are, and where they are, 
may be somewhat hard to settle; but that it does make use of such, 
appears from hence; that a long exercise of the mental powers in- 
duces a remarkable lassitude of the whole body; and, on the other 
hand, that great bodily labour, or pain, weakens, and sometimes 
actually destroys, the mental faculties. Now, as a due exercise is 
essential to the coarse muscular parts of the constitution, and that 
without this rousing they would become languid and diseased, the 
very same rule holds with regard to those finer parts we have men- 
tioned; to have them in proper order, they must be shaken and 
worked to a proper degree. 

SECT. VII. EXERCISE NECESSARY FOR THE FINER ORGANS 

As common labour, which is a mode of pain, is the exercise of the 
grosser, a mode of terror is the exercise of the finer parts of the sys- 
tem; and if a certain mode of pain be of such a nature as to act upon 
the eye or the ear, as they are the most delicate organs, the affec- 
tion approaches more nearly to that which has a mental cause. In 
all these cases, if the pain and terror are so modified as not to be 
actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror 
is not conversant about the present destruction of the person, as these 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 1 09 

emotions clear the parts, whether fine or gross, of a dangerous and 
troublesome encumbrance, they are capable of producing delight; 
not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquillity 
tinged with terror; which, as it belongs to self-preservation, is one of 
the strongest of all the passions. Its object is the sublime. 1 Its high- 
est degree I call astonishment; the subordinate degrees are awe, 
reverence, and respect, which, by the very etymology of the words 
show from what source they are derived, and how they stand dis- 
tinguished from positive pleasure. 

SECT. VIII. WHY THINGS NOT DANGEROUS PRODUCE A PASSION LIKE TERROR 

2 A MODE of terror or pain is always the cause of the sublime. For 
terror, or associated danger, the foregoing explication is, I believe, 
sufficient. It will require something more trouble to show, that such 
examples as I have given of the sublime in the second part are 
capable of producing a mode of pain, and of being thus allied to 
terror, and to be accounted for on the same principles. And first of 
such objects as are great in their dimensions. I speak of visual objects. 

SECT. IX. WHY VISUAL OBJECTS OF GREAT DIMENSIONS ARE SUBLIME 

VISION is performed by having a picture, formed by the rays of 
light which are reflected from the object, painted in one piece, in- 
stantaneously, on the retina, or last nervous part of the eye. Or, 
according to others, there is but one point of any object painted on 
the eye in such a manner as to be perceived at once; but by moving 
the eye, we gather up, with great celerity, the several parts of the 
object, so as to form one uniform piece. If the former opinion be 
allowed, it will be considered, 3 that though all the light reflected 
from a large body should strike the eye in one instant; yet we must 
suppose that the body itself is formed of a vast number of distinct 
points, every one of which, or the ray from every one, makes an 
impression on the retina. So that, though the image of one point 
should cause but a small tension of this membrane, another and 
another, and another stroke, must in their progress cause a very 
great one, until it arrives at last to the highest degree; and the whole 

1 Part II. sect 2. 2 Part I. sect. 7. Part II. sect 2. 
3 Part II. sect. 7. 



110 EDMUND BURKE 

capacity of the eye, vibrating in all its parts, must approach near to 
the nature of what causes pain, and consequently must produce an 
idea of the sublime. Again, if we take it, that one point only of 
an object is distinguishable at once, the matter will amount nearly 
to the same thing, or rather it will make the origin of the sublime 
from greatness of dimension yet clearer. For if but one point is 
observed at once, the eye must traverse the vast space of such bodies 
with great quickness, and consequently the fine nerves and muscles 
destined to the motion of that part must be very much strained; and 
their great sensibility must make them highly affected by this strain- 
ing. Besides, it signifies just nothing to the effect produced, whether 
a body has its parts connected and makes its impression at once; 
or, making but one impression of a point at a time, causes a suc- 
cession of the same or others so quickly as to make them seem 
united; as is evident from the common effect of whirling about a 
lighted torch or piece of wood: which, if done with celerity, seems 
a circle of fire. 

SECT. X. UNITY WHY REQUISITE TO VASTNESS 

IT may be objected to this theory, that the eye generally receives 
an equal number of rays at all times, and that therefore a great object 
cannot affect it by the number of rays, more than that variety of 
objects which the eye must always discern whilst it remains open. 
But to this I answer, that admitting an equal number of rays, or an 
equal quantity of luminous particles, to strike the eye at all times, 
yet if these rays frequently vary their nature, now to blue, now to 
red, and so on, or their manner of termination, as to a number of 
petty squares, triangles, or the like, at every change, whether of 
colour or shape, the organ has a sort of relaxation or rest; but this 
relaxation and labour so often interrupted, is by no means pro- 
ductive of ease; neither has it the effect of vigorous and uniform 
labour. Whoever has remarked the different effects of some strong 
exercise, and some little piddling action, will understand why a 
teasing, fretful employment, which at once wearies and weakens the 
body, should have nothing great; these sorts of impulses, which are 
rather teasing than painful, by continually and suddenly altering 
their tenor and direction, prevent that full tension, that species of 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL III 

uniform labour, which is allied to strong pain, and causes the sub- 
lime. The sum total of things of various kinds, though it should 
equal the number of the uniform parts composing some one entire 
object, is not equal in its eflect upon the organs of our bodies. Be- 
sides the one already assigned, there is another very strong reason 
for the difference. The mind in reality hardly ever can attend dili- 
gently to more than one thing at a time; if this thing be little, the 
eflect is little, and a number of other little objects cannot engage 
the attention; the mind is bounded by the bounds of the object; and 
,what is not attended to, and what does not exist, are much the 
same in effect; but the eye, or the mind, (for in this case there is no 
difference,) in great, uniform objects, does not readily arrive at their 
bounds; it has no rest whilst it contemplates them; the image is 
much the same everywhere. So that everything great by its quantity 
must necessarily be one, simple and entire. 

SECT. XI. THE ARTIFICIAL INFINITE 

WE have observed, that a species of greatness arises from the 
artificial infinite; and that this infinite consists in an uniform suc- 
cession of great parts: we observed, too, that the same uniform suc- 
cession had a like power in sounds. But because the effects of many 
things are clearer in one of the senses than in another, and that all 
the senses bear analogy to and illustrate one another, I shall begin 
with this power in sounds, as the cause of the sublimity from suc- 
cession is rather more obvious in the sense of hearing. And I shall 
here, once for all, observe, that an investigation of the. natural and 
mechanical causes of our passions, besides the curiosity of the sub- 
ject, gives, if they are discovered, a double strength and lustre to any 
rules we deliver on such matters. When the ear receives any simple 
sound, it is struck by a single pulse of the air, which makes the ear- 
drum and the other membranous parts vibrate according to the nature 
and species of the stroke. If the stroke be strong, the organ of hear- 
ing suffers a considerable degree of tension. If the stroke be repeated 
pretty soon after, the repetition causes an expectation of another 
stroke. And it must be observed, that expectation itself causes a 
tension. This is apparent in many animals, who, when they prepare 
for hearing any sound, rouse themselves, and prick up their ears: 



112 EDMUND BURKE 

so that here the effect of the sounds is considerably augmented by a 
new auxiliary, the expectation. But though, after a number of 
strokes, we expect still more, not being able to ascertain the exact 
time of their arrival, when they arrive, they produce a sort of sur- 
prise, which increases this tension yet further. For I have observed, 
that when at any time I have waited very earnestly for some sound, 
that returned at intervals, (as the successive firing of cannon,) though 
I fully expected the return of the sound, when it came it always 
made me start a little; the ear-drum suffered a convulsion, and the 
whole body consented with it. The tension of the part thus increas- 
ing at every blow, by the united forces of the stroke itself, the expec- 
tation, and the surprise, it is worked up to such a pitch as to be 
capable of the sublime; it is brought just to the verge of pain. Even 
when the cause has ceased, the organs of hearing being often suc- 
cessively struck in a similar manner, continue to vibrate in that man- 
ner for some time longer; this is an additional help to the greatness 
of the effect. 

SECT. XII. THE VIBRATIONS MUST BE SIMILAR 

BUT if the vibration be not similar at every impression, it can never 
be carried beyond the number of actual impressions; for move any 
body, as a pendulum, in one way, and it will continue to oscillate 
in an arch of the same circle, until the known causes make it rest; 
but if after first putting it in motion in one direction, you push it 
into another, it can never reassume the first direction; because it 
can never move itself, and consequently it can have but the effect of 
that last motion; whereas, if in the same direction you act upon it 
several times, it will describe a greater arch, and move a longer time. 

SECT. XIII. THE EFFECTS OF SUCCESSION IN VISUAL OBJECTS EXPLAINED 

IF we can comprehend clearly how things operate upon one of 
our senses, there can be very little difficulty in conceiving in what 
manner they affect the rest. To say a great deal therefore upon the 
corresponding affections of every sense, would tend rather to fatigue 
us by an useless repetition, than to throw any new light upon the 
subject by that ample and diffuse manner of treating it; but as in 
this discourse we chiefly attach ourselves to the sublime, as it affects 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

the eye, we shall consider particularly why a successive disposition of 
uniform parts in the same right line should be sublime, 1 and upon 
what principle this disposition is enabled to make a comparatively 
small quantity of matter produce a grander effect, than a much larger 
quantity disposed in another manner. To avoid the perplexity of 
general notions; let us set before our eyes a colonnade of uniform 
pillars planted in a right line; let us take our stand in such a manner, 
that the eye may shoot along this colonnade, for it has its best 
effect in this view. In our present situation it is plain, that the rays 
from the first round pillar will cause in the eye a vibration of that 
species; an image of the pillar itself. The pillar immediately suc- 
ceeding increases it; that which follows renews and enforces the 
impression; each in its order as it succeeds, repeats impulse after 
impulse, and stroke after stroke, until the eye, long exercised in one 
particular way, cannot lose that object immediately; and, being vio- 
lently roused by this continued agitation, it presents the mind with 
a grand or sublime conception. But instead of viewing a rank of 
uniform pillars, let us suppose that they succeed each other, a round 
and a square one alternately. In this case the vibration caused by 
the first round pillar perishes as soon as it is formed: and one of 
quite another sort (the square) directly occupies its place; which, 
however, it resigns as quickly to the round one; and thus the eye 
proceeds, alternately; taking up one image, and laying down another, 
as long as the building continues. From whence it is obvious, that, 
at the last pillar, the impression is as far from continuing as it was 
at the very first; because, in fact, the sensory can receive no distinct 
impression but from the last; and it can never of itself resume a 
dissimilar impression: besides, every variation of the object is a rest 
and relaxation to the organs of sight; and these reliefs prevent that 
powerful emotion so necessary to produce the sublime. To produce 
therefore a perfect grandeur in such things as we have been mention- 
ing, there should be a perfect simplicity, an absolute uniformity in 
disposition, shape, and colouring. Upon this principle of succession 
and uniformity it may be asked, why a long bare wall should not 
be a more sublime object than a colonnade; since the succession is 
no way interrupted; since the eye meets no check; since nothing 

! Part II. sect. 10. 



114 EDMUND BURKE 

more uniform can be conceived? A long bare wall is certainly not 
so grand an object as a colonnade o the same length and height. 
It is not altogether difficult to account for this difference. When we 
look at a naked wall, from the evenness of the object, the eye runs 
along its whole space, and arrives quickly at its termination; the 
eye meets nothing which may interrupt its progress; but then it 
meets nothing which may detain it a proper time to produce a very 
great and lasting effect. The view of the bare wall, if it be of a 
great height and length, is undoubtedly grand; but this is only one 
idea, and not a repetition of similar ideas: it is therefore great, not 
so much upon the principle of infinity, as upon that of vastness. 
But we are not so powerfully affected with any one impulse, unless 
it be one of a prodigious force indeed, as we are with a succession of 
similar impulses; because the nerves of the sensory do not (if I may 
use the expression) acquire a habit of repeating the same feeling in 
such a manner as to continue it longer than its cause is in action; 
besides, all the effects which I have attributed to expectation and 
surprise in sect, n, can have no place in a bare wall. 

SECT. xiv. LOCKE'S OPINION CONCERNING DARKNESS CONSIDERED 

IT is Mr. Locke's opinion, that darkness is not naturally an idea 
of terror; and that, though an excessive light is painful to the sense, 
the greatest excess of darkness is no ways troublesome. He observes 
indeed in another place, that a nurse or an old woman having once 
associated the idea of ghosts and goblins with that of darkness, night, 
ever after, becomes painful and horrible to the imagination. The 
authority of this great man is doubtless as great as that of any man 
can be, and it seems to stand in the way of our general principle. 1 
We have considered darkness as a cause of the sublime; and we 
have all along considered the sublime as depending on some modi- 
fication of pain or terror: so that if darkness be no way painful or 
terrible to any, who have not had their minds early tainted with 
superstitions, it can be no source of the sublime to them. But, with 
all deference to such an authority, it seems to me, that an association 
of a more general nature, an association which takes in all mankind, 
and make darkness terrible; for in utter darkness it is impossible to 

J Part II. sect. 3. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

know in what degree of safety we stand; we are ignorant of the 
objects that surround us; we may every moment strike against some 
dangerous obstruction; we may fall down a precipice the first step 
we take; and if an enemy approach, we know not in what quarter 
to defend ourselves; in such a case strength is no sure protection; 
wisdom can only act by guess; the boldest are staggered, and he, 
who would pray for nothing else towards his defence, is forced to 
pray for light. 

Zev Trarep, dXXct crv pvaai vir' rjepos ulas 
IIoi77<roi> d' aWprjv, 56s 8' 6<j>da.\fJ.olo'ii> 



As to the association of ghosts and goblins; surely it is more 
natural to think, that darkness, being originally an idea of terror, 
was chosen as a fit scene for such terrible representations, than that 
such representations have made darkness terrible. The mind of man 
very easily slides into an error of the former sort; but it is very 
hard to imagine, that the effect of an idea so universally terrible in all 
times, and in all countries, as darkness, could possibly have been 
owing to a set of idle stories, or to any cause of a nature so trivial, 
and of an operation so precarious. 

SECT. XV. DARKNESS TERRIBLE IN ITS OWN NATURE 

PERHAPS it may appear on inquiry that blackness and darkness are 
in some degree painful by their natural operation, independent of 
any associations whatsoever. I must observe, that the ideas of dark- 
ness and blackness are much the same; and they differ only in this, 
that blackness is a more confined idea. Mr. Cheselden has given 
us a very curious story of a boy, who had been born blind, and con- 
tinued so until he was thirteen or fourteen years old; he was then 
couched for a cataract, by which operation he received his sight. 
Among many remarkable particulars that attended his first per- 
ceptions and judgments on visual objects, Cheselden tells us, that 
the first time the boy saw a black object, it gave him great uneasi- 
ness; and that some time after, upon accidentally seeing a negro 
woman, he was struck with great horror at the sight. The horror, 
in this case, can scarcely be supposed to arise from any association. 
The boy appears by the account to have been particularly observ- 



Il6 EDMUND BURKE 

ing and sensible for one of his age; and therefore it is probable, if 
the great uneasiness he felt at the first sight of black had arisen 
from its connexion with any other disagreeable ideas, he would have 
observed and mentioned it. For an idea, disagreeable only by asso- 
ciation, has the cause of its ill effect on the passions evident enough 
at the first impression; in ordinary cases, it is indeed frequently lost; 
but this is, because the original association was made very early, and 
the consequent impression repeated often. In our instance, there was 
no time for such a habit; and there is no reason to think that the ill 
effects of black on his imagination were more owing to its con- 
nexion with any disagreeable ideas, than that the good effects of 
more cheerful colours were derived from their connexion with pleas- 
ing ones. They had both probably their effects from their natural 
operation. 

SECT. XVI. WHY DARKNESS IS TERRIBLE 

IT may be worth while to examine how darkness can operate in 
such a manner as to cause pain. It is observable, that still as we 
recede from the light, nature has so contrived it, that the pupil is 
enlarged by the retiring of the iris, in proportion to our recess. Now, 
instead of declining from it but a little, suppose that we withdraw 
entirely from the light; it is reasonable to think, that the contraction 
of the radial fibres of the iris is proportionably greater; and that this 
part may by great darkness come to be so contracted as to strain the 
nerves that compose it beyond their natural tone; and by this means 
to produce a painful sensation. Such a tension it seems there cer- 
tainly is, whilst we are involved in darkness; for in such a state, whilst 
the eye remains open, there is a continual nisus to receive light; this 
is manifest from the flashes and luminous appearances which often 
seem in these circumstances to play before it; and which can be 
nothing but the effect of spasms, produced by its own efforts in pur- 
suit of its object: several other strong impulses will produce the 
idea of light in the eye, besides the substance of light itself, as we 
experience on many occasions. Some, who allow darkness to be a 
cause of the sublime, would infer, from the dilatation of the pupil, 
that a relaxation may be productive of the sublime, as well as a con- 
vulsion: but they do not, I believe, consider that although the circular 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

ring of the iris be in some sense a sphincter, which may possibly be 
dilated by a simple relaxation, yet in one respect it differs from most 
of the other sphincters of the body, that it is furnished with antago- 
nist muscles, which are the radial fibres of the iris: no sooner does 
the circular muscle begin to relax, than these fibres, wanting their 
counterpoise, are forcibly drawn back, and open the pupil to a con- 
siderable wideness. But though we were not apprized of this, I 
believe any one will find, if he opens his eyes and makes an effort 
to see in a dark place, that a very perceivable pain ensues. And I 
have heard some ladies remark, that after having worked a long 
time upon a ground of black, their eyes were so pained and weak- 
ened, they could hardly see. It may perhaps be objected to this theory 
of the mechanical effect of darkness, that the ill effects of darkness 
or blackness seem rather mental than corporeal : and I own it is true, 
that they do so; and so do all those that depend on the affections of 
the finer parts of our system. The ill effects of bad weather appear 
often no otherwise, than in a melancholy and dejection of spirits; 
though without doubt, in this case, the bodily organs suffer first, 
and the mind through these organs. 

SECT. XVII.-^THE EFFECTS OF BLACKNESS 

BLACKNESS is but a partial darkness; and therefore, it derives some 
of its powers from being mixed and surrounded with coloured bodies. 
In its own nature, it cannot be considered as a colour. Black bodies, 
reflecting none or but a few rays, with regard to sight, are but as so 
many vacant spaces dispersed among the objects we view. When the 
eye lights on one of these vacuities, after having been kept in some 
degree of tension by the play of the adjacent colours upon it, it sud- 
denly falls into a relaxation; out of which it as suddenly recovers by a 
convulsive spring. To illustrate this: let us consider, that when we in- 
tend to sit on a chair, and find it much lower than was expected, the 
shock is very violent; much more violent than could be thought from 
so slight a fall as the difference between one chair and another can 
possibly make. If, after descending a flight of stairs, we attempt inad- 
vertently to take another step in the manner of the former ones, the 
shock is extremely rude and disagreeable; and by no art can we 
cause such a shock by the same means when we expect and prepare 



Il8 EDMUND BURKE 

for it. When I say that this is owing to having the change made con- 
trary to expectation, I do not mean solely, when the mind expects. I 
mean, likewise, that when any organ of sense is for some time affected 
in some one manner, if it be suddenly affected otherwise, there 
ensues a convulsive motion; such a convulsion as is caused when 
anything happens against the expectance of the mind. And though 
it may appear strange that such a change as produces a relaxation 
should immediately produce a sudden convulsion; it is yet most cer- 
tainly so, and so in all the senses. Every one knows that sleep is a re- 
laxation; and that silence, where nothing keeps the organs of hearing 
in action, is in general fittest to bring on this relaxation; yet when 
a sort of murmuring sounds dispose a man to sleep, let these sounds 
cease suddenly, and the person immediately awakes; that is, the parts 
are braced up suddenly, and he awakes. This I have often experi- 
enced myself, and I have heard the same from observing persons. 
In like manner, if a person in broad day-light were falling asleep, to 
introduce a sudden darkness would prevent his sleep for that time, 
though silence and darkness in themselves, and not suddenly intro- 
duced, are very favourable to it. This I knew only by conjecture 
on the analogy of the senses when I first digested these observations; 
but I have since experienced it. And I have often experienced, and 
so have a thousand others, that on the first inclining towards sleep, 
we have been suddenly awakened with a most violent start; and that 
this start was generally preceded by a sort of dream of our falling 
down a precipice: whence does this strange motion arise, but from 
the too sudden relaxation of the body, which by some mechanism 
in nature restores itself by as quick and vigorous an exertion of the 
contracting power of the muscles? The dream itself is caused by 
this relaxation; and it is of too uniform a nature to be attributed 
to any other cause. The parts relax too suddenly, which is in the 
nature of falling; and this accident of the body induces this image in 
the mind. When we are in a confirmed state of health and vigour, 
as all changes are then less sudden, and less on the extreme, we can 
seldom complain of this disagreeable sensation. 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 



SECT. XVIII. THE EFFECTS OF BLACKNESS MODERATED 

THOUGH the effects of black be painful originally, we must not 
think they always continue so. Custom reconciles us to everything. 
After we have been used to the sight of black objects, the terror 
abates, and the smoothness and glossiness, or some agreeable acci- 
dent, of bodies so coloured, softens in some measure the horror and 
sternness of their original nature; yet the nature of their original 
impression still continues. Black will always have something melan- 
choly in it, because the sensory will always find the change to it 
from other colours too violent; or if it occupy the whole compass 
of the sight, it will then be darkness; and what was said of dark- 
ness will be applicable here. I do not purpose to go into all that 
might be said to illustrate this theory of the effects of light and dark- 
ness, neither will I examine all the different effects produced by the 
various modifications and mixtures of these two causes. If the fore- 
going observations have any foundation in nature, I conceive them 
very sufficient to account for all the phenomena that can arise from 
all the combinations of black with other colours. To enter into every 
particular, or to answer every objection, would be an endless labour. 
We have only followed the most leading roads; and we shall 
observe the same conduct in our inquiry into the cause of beauty. 

SECT. XIX. THE PHYSICAL CAUSE OF LOVE 

WHEN we have before us such objects as excite love and compla- 
cency, the body is affected, so far as I could observe, much in the 
following manner: the head reclines something on one side; the 
eyelids are more closed than usual, and the eyes roll gently with 
an inclination to the object; the mouth is a little opened, and the 
breath drawn slowly, with now and then a low sigh; the whole 
body is composed, and the hands fall idly to the sides. All this is 
accompanied with an inward sense of melting and languor. These 
appearances are always proportioned to the degree of beauty in the 
object, and of sensibility in the observer. And this gradation from 
the highest pitch of beauty and sensibility, even to the lowest of 
mediocrity and indifference, and their correspondent effects, ought 
to be kept in view, else this description will seem exaggerated, which 



120 EDMUND BURKE 

it certainly is not. But from this description it is almost impossible 
not to conclude, that beauty acts by relaxing the solids of the whole 
system. There are all the appearances of such a relaxation; and a 
relaxation somewhat below the natural tone seems to me to be the 
cause of all positive pleasure. Who is a stranger to that manner of 
expression so common in all times and in all countries, of being 
softened, relaxed, enervated, dissolved, melted away by pleasure? 
The universal voice of mankind, faithful to their feelings, concurs in 
affirming this uniform and general effect: and although some odd 
and particular instance may perhaps be found, wherein there appears 
a considerable degree of positive pleasure, without all the charac- 
ters of relaxation, we must not therefore reject the conclusion we 
had drawn from a concurrence of many experiments; but we must 
still retain it, subjoining the exceptions which may occur, according 
to the judicious rule laid down by Sir Isaac Newton in the third 
book of his Optics. Our position will, I conceive, appear confirmed 
beyond any reasonable doubt, if we can show that such things as we 
have already observed to be the genuine constituents of beauty, have 
each of them, separately taken, a natural tendency to relax the fibres. 
And if it must be allowed us, that the appearance of the human body, 
when all these constituents are united together before the sensory, 
further favours this opinion, we may venture, I believe, to conclude, 
that the passion called love is produced by this relaxation. By the 
same method of reasoning which we have used in the inquiry into 
the causes of the sublime, we may likewise conclude, that as a beauti- 
ful object presented to the sense, by causing a relaxation of the body, 
produces the passion of love in the mind; so if by any means the 
passion should first have its origin in the mind, a relaxation of the 
outward organs will as certainly ensue in a degree proportioned to 
the cause. 

SECT. XX. WHY SMOOTHNESS IS BEAUTIFUL 

IT is to explain the true cause of visual beauty, that I call in 
the assistance of the other senses. If it appears that smoothness is a 
principal cause of pleasure to the touch, taste, smell, and hearing, 
it will be easily admitted a constituent of visual beauty; especially 
as we have before shown, that this quality is found almost without 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 121 

exception in all bodies that are by general consent held beautiful. 
There can be no doubt that bodies which are rough and angular, 
rouse and vellicate the organs of feeling, causing a sense of pain, 
which consists in the violent tension or contraction of the muscular 
fibres. On the contrary, the application of smooth bodies relaxes; 
gentle stroking with a smooth hand allays violent pains and cramps, 
and relaxes the suffering parts from their unnatural tension; and 
it has therefore very often no mean effect in removing swellings and 
obstructions. The sense of feeling is highly gratified with smooth 
bodies. A bed smoothly laid, and soft, that is, where the resistance 
is every way inconsiderable, is a great luxury, disposing to an uni- 
versal relaxation, and inducing beyond anything else that species of 
it called sleep. 

SECT. XXI. SWEETNESS, ITS NATURE 

NOR is it only in the touch that smooth bodies cause positive 
pleasure by relaxation. In the smell and taste, we find all things 
agreeable to them, and which are commonly called sweet, to be of a 
smooth nature, and that they all evidently tend to relax their respec- 
tive sensories. Let us first consider the taste. Since it is most easy 
to inquire into the property of liquids, and since all things seem to 
want a fluid vehicle to make them tasted at all, I intend rather to 
consider the liquid than the solid parts of our food. The vehicles of 
all tastes are water and oil. And what determines the taste is some 
salt, which affects variously according to its nature, or its manner of 
being combined with other things. Water and oil, simply consid- 
ered, are capable of giving some pleasure to the taste. Water, when 
simple, is insipid, inodorous, colourless, and smooth; it is found, 
when not cold, to be a great resolver of spasms, and lubricator of 
the fibres; this power it probably owes to its smoothness. For as 
fluidity depends, according to the most general opinion, on the 
roundness, smoothness, and weak cohesion, of the component parts 
of any body; and as water acts merely as a simple fluid; it follows 
that the cause of its fluidity is likewise the cause of its relaxing 
quality; namely, the smoothness and slippery texture of its parts. 
The other fluid vehicle of taste is oil. This too, when simple, is 
insipid, inodorous, colourless, and smooth to the touch and taste. 



122 EDMUND BURKE 

It is smoother than water, and in many cases yet more relaxing. 
Oil is in some degree pleasant to the eye, the touch, and the taste, 
insipid as it is. Water is not so grateful; which I do not know on 
what principle to account for, other than that water is not so soft 
and smooth. Suppose that to this oil or water were added a certain 
quantity of a specific salt, which had a power of putting the nervous 
papillae of the tongue into a gentle vibratory motion; as suppose, 
sugar dissolved in it. The smoothness of the oil, and the vibratory 
power of the salt, cause the sense we call sweetness. In all sweet 
bodies, sugar, or a substance very little different from sugar, is con- 
stantly found. Every species of salt, examined by the microscope, has 
its own distinct, regular, invariable form. That of nitre is a pointed 
oblong; that of sea-salt an exact cube; that of sugar a perfect globe. 
If you have tried how smooth globular bodies, as the marbles with 
which boys amuse themselves, have aflected the touch when they 
are rolled backward and forward and over one another, you will 
easily conceive how sweetness, which consists in a salt of such nature, 
affects the taste; for a single globe, (though somewhat pleasant to 
the feeling,) yet by the regularity of its form, and the somewhat 
too sudden deviation of its parts from a right line, is nothing near 
so pleasant to the touch as several globes, where the hand gently 
rises to one and falls to another; and this pleasure is greatly in- 
creased if the globes are in motion, and sliding over one another; 
for this soft variety prevents that weariness, which the uniform dis- 
position of the several globes would otherwise produce. Thus in 
sweet liquors, the parts of the fluid vehicle, though most probably 
round, are yet so minute, as to conceal the figure of their compo- 
nent parts from the nicest inquisition of the microscope; and conse- 
quently, being so excessively minute, they have a sort of flat sim- 
plicity to the taste, resembling the effects of plain smooth bodies to 
the touch; for if a body be composed of round parts excessively 
small, and packed pretty closely together, the surface will be both to 
the sight and touch as if it were nearly plain and smooth. It is clear 
from their unveiling their figure to the microscope, that the particles 
of sugar are considerably larger than those of water or oil, and con- 
sequently, that their effects from their roundness will be more dis- 
tinct and palpable to the nervous papillae of that nice organ the 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 123 

tongue: they will induce that sense called sweetness, which in a weak 
manner we discover in oil, and in a yet weaker, in water; for, insipid 
as they are, water and oil are in some degree sweet; and it may be 
observed, that the insipid things of all kinds approach more nearly 
to the nature of sweetness than to that of any other taste. 

SECT. XXII. SWEETNESS RELAXING 

IN the other senses we have remarked, that smooth things are re- 
laxing. Now it ought to appear that sweet things, which are the 
smooth of taste, are relaxing too. It is remarkable, that in some 
languages, soft and sweet have but one name. Doux in French sig- 
nifies soft as well as sweet. The Latin Dulcis, and the Italian Dolce, 
have in many cases the same double signification. That sweet things 
are generally relaxing, is evident; because all such, especially those 
which are most oily, taken frequently, or in a large quantity, very 
much enfeeble the tone of the stomach. Sweet smells, which bear a 
great affinity to sweet tastes, relax very remarkably. The smell of 
flowers disposes people to drowsiness; and this relaxing effect is 
further apparent from the prejudice which people of weak nerves 
receive from their use. It were worth while to examine, whether 
tastes of this kind, sweet ones, tastes that are caused by smooth oils 
and a relaxing salt, are not the original pleasant tastes. For many, 
which use has rendered such, were not at all agreeable at first. The 
way to examine this, is to try what nature has originally provided 
for us, which she has undoubtedly made originally pleasant; and 
to analyze this provision. Milt^ is the first support of our childhood. 
The component parts of this are water, oil, and a sort of a very sweet 
salt, called the sugar of milk. All these when blended have a great 
smoothness to the taste, and a relaxing quality to the skin. The next 
thing children covet is fruit, and of fruits those principally which are 
sweet; and every one knows that the sweetness of fruit is caused 
by a subtle oil, and such salt as that mentioned in the last section. 
Afterwards custom, habit, the desire of novelty, and a thousand other 
causes, confound, adulterate, and change our palates, so that we can 
no longer reason with any satisfaction about them. Before we quit 
this article, we must observe, that as smooth things are, as such, 
agreeable to the taste, and are found of a relaxing quality; so, on 



124 EDMUND BURKE 

the other hand, things which are found by experience to be of a 
strengthening quality, and fit to brace the fibres, are almost uni- 
versally rough and pungent to the taste, and in many cases rough 
even to the touch. We often apply the quality of sweetness, meta- 
phorically, to visual objects. For the better carrying on this re- 
markable analogy of the senses, we may here call sweetness the 
beautiful of the taste. 

SECT. XXIII. VARIATION, WHY BEAUTIFUL 

ANOTHER principal property of beautiful objects is, that the line of 
their parts is continually varying its direction; but it varies it by a 
very insensible deviation; it never varies it so quickly as to surprise, 
or by the sharpness of its angle to cause any twitching or convul- 
sion of the optic nerve. Nothing long continued in the same man- 
ner, nothing very suddenly varied, can be beautiful; because both 
are opposite to that agreeable relaxation which is the characteristic 
effect of beauty. It is thus in all the senses. A motion in a right 
line is that manner of moving, next to a very gentle descent, in 
which we meet the least resistance; yet it is not that manner of 
moving which, next to a descent, wearies us the least. Rest cer- 
tainly tends to relax; yet there is a species of motion which relaxes 
more than rest; a gentle oscillatory motion, a rising and falling. 
Rocking sets children to sleep better than absolute rest; there is 
indeed scarce anything at that age which gives more pleasure than 
to be gently lifted up and down; the manner of playing which their 
nurses use with children, and the weighing and swinging used 
afterwards by themselves as a favourite amusement, evince this very 
sufficiently. Most people must have observed the sort of sense they 
have had on being swiftly drawn in an easy coach on a smooth turf, 
with gradual ascents and declivities. This will give a better idea of 
the beautiful, and point out its probable course better, than almost 
anything else. On the contrary, when one is hurried over a rough, 
rocky, broken road, the pain felt by these sudden inequalities shows 
why similar sights, feelings, and sounds are so contrary to beauty: 
and with regard to the feeling, it is exactly the same in its effect, or 
very nearly the same, whether, for instance, I move my hand along 
the surface of a body of a certain shape, or whether such a body is 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 125 

moved along my hand. But to bring this analogy of the senses home 
to the eye: if a body presented to that sense has such a waving sur- 
face, that the rays of light reflected from it are in a continual in- 
sensible deviation from the strongest to the weakest (which is always 
the case in a surface gradually unequal,) it must be exactly similar in 
its effects on the eye and touch; upon the one of which it operates 
directly, on the other, indirectly. And this body will be beautiful, 
if the lines which compose its surface are not continued, even so 
varied, in a manner that may weary or dissipate the attention. The 
variation itself must be continually varied. 

SECT. XXIV. CONCERNING SMALLNESS 

To avoid a sameness which may arise from the too frequent repe- 
tition of the same reasonings, and of illustrations of the same nature, 
I will not enter very minutely into every particular that regards 
beauty, as it is founded on the disposition of its quantity, or its 
quantity itself. In speaking of the magnitude of bodies there is great 
uncertainty, because the ideas of great and small are terms almost 
entirely relative to the species of the objects, which are infinite. It 
is true, that having once fixed the species of any object, and the di- 
mensions common in the individuals of that species, we may ob- 
serve some that exceed, and some that fall short of, the ordinary 
standard: those which greatly exceed are, by that excess, provided 
the species itself be not very small, rather great and terrible than 
beautiful; but as in the animal world, and in a good measure in the 
vegetable world likewise, the qualities that constitute beauty may 
possibly be united to things of greater dimensions; when they are so 
united, they constitute a species something different both from the 
sublime and beautiful, which I have before called fine: but this 
kind, I imagine, has not such a power on the passions either as vast 
bodies have which are endued with the correspondent qualities of 
the sublime, or as the qualities of beauty have when united in a 
small object. The affection produced by large bodies adorned with 
the spoils of beauty, is a tension continually relieved; which ap- 
proaches to the nature of mediocrity. But if I were to say how I find 
myself affected upon such occasions, I should say, that the sublime 
suffers less by being united to some of the qualities of beauty, than 



126 EDMUND BURKE 

beauty does by being joined to greatness of quantity, or any other 
properties of the sublime. There is something so over-ruling in 
whatever inspires us with awe, in all things which belongs ever so 
remotely to terror, that nothing else can stand in their presence. 
There lie the qualities of beauty either dead or unoperative; or at 
most exerted to mollify the rigour and sternness of the terror, which 
is the natural concomitant of greatness. Besides the extraordinary 
great in every species, the opposite to this, the dwarfish and diminu- 
tive, ought to be considered. Littleness, merely as such, has nothing 
contrary to the idea of beauty. The humming-bird, both in shape 
and colouring, yields to none of the winged species, of which it is 
the least; and perhaps his beauty is enhanced by his smallness. But 
there are animals, which, when they are extremely small, are rarely 
(if ever) beautiful. There is a dwarfish size of men and women, 
which is almost constantly so gross and massive in comparison of 
their height, that they present us with a very disagreeable image. 
But should a man be found not above two or three feet high, sup- 
posing such a person to have all the parts of his body of a delicacy 
suitable to such a size, and otherwise endued with the common 
qualities of other beautiful bodies, I am pretty well convinced that 
a person of such a stature might be considered as beautiful; might be 
the object of love; might give us very pleasing ideas on viewing 
him. The only thing which could possibly interpose to check our 
pleasure is, that such creatures, however formed, are unusual, and 
are often therefore considered as something monstrous. The large 
and gigantic, though very compatible with the sublime, is contrary 
to the beautiful. It is impossible to suppose a giant the object of 
love. When we let our imagination loose in romance, the ideas we 
naturally annex to that size are those of tyranny, cruelty, injustice, 
and everything horrid and abominable. We paint the giant ravag- 
ing the country, plundering the innocent traveller, and afterwards 
gorged with his half-living flesh: such are Polyphemus, Cacus, and 
others, who make so great a figure in romances and heroic poems. 
The event we attend to with the greatest satisfaction is their defeat 
and death. I do not remember, in all that multitude of deaths with 
which the Iliad is filled, that the fall of any man, remarkable for 
his great stature and strength, touches us with pity; nor does it 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 127 

appear that the author, so well read in human nature, ever intended 
it should. It is Simoisius, in the soft bloom of youth, torn from his 
parents, who tremble for a courage so ill suited to his strength; it is 
another hurried by war from the new embraces of his bride, young, 
and fair, and a novice to the field, who melts us by his untimely 
fate. Achilles, in spite of the many qualities of beauty which Homer 
has bestowed on his outward form, and the many great virtues with 
which he has adorned his mind, can never make us love him. It 
may be observed, that Homer has given the Trojans, whose fate he 
has designed to excite our compassion, infinitely more of the amia- 
ble, social virtues than he has distributed among his Greeks. With 
regard to the Trojans, the passion he chooses to raise is pity; pity 
is a passion founded on love; and these lesser, and if I may say 
domestic virtues, are certainly the most amiable. But he has made 
the Greeks far their superiors in the politic and military virtues. 
The councils of Priam are weak; the arms of Hector comparatively 
feeble; his courage far below that of Achilles. Yet we love Priam 
more than Agamemnon, and Hector more than his conqueror 
Achilles. Admiration is the passion which Homer would excite in 
favour of the Greeks, and he has done it by bestowing on them the 
virtues which have little to do with love. This short digression is 
perhaps not wholly beside our purpose, where our business is to 
show, that objects of great dimensions are incompatible with beauty, 
the more incompatible as they are greater; whereas the small, if 
ever they fail of beauty, this failure is not to be attributed to their 
size. 



SECT. XXV. OF COLOUR 



WITH regard to colour, the disquisition is almost infinite: but I 
conceive the principles laid down in the beginning of this part are 
sufficient to account for the effects of them all, as well as for the 
agreeable effects of transparent bodies, whether fluid or solid. Sup- 
pose I look at a bottle of muddy liquor, of a blue or red colour; the 
blue or red rays cannot pass clearly to the eye, but are suddenly and 
unequally stopped by the intervention of little opaque bodies, which 
without preparation change the idea, and change it too into one 
disagreeable in its own nature, conformably to the principles laid 



128 EDMUND BURKE 

down in sect. 24. But when the ray passes without such opposition 
through the glass or liquor, when the glass or liquor is quite trans- 
parent, the light is sometimes softened in the passage, which makes 
it more agreeable even as light; and the liquor reflecting all the rays 
of its proper colour evenly, it has such an effect on the eye, as 
smooth opaque bodies have on the eye and touch. So that the plea- 
sure here is compounded of the softness of the transmitted, and the 
evenness of the reflected light. This pleasure may be heightened 
by the common principles in other things, if the shape of the glass 
which holds the transparent liquor be so judiciously varied, as to 
present the colour gradually and interchangeably, weakened and 
strengthened with all the variety which judgment in affairs of this 
nature shall suggest. On a review of all that has been said of the 
effects as well as the causes of both, it will appear, that the sublime 
and beautiful are built on principles very different, and that their 
affections are as different: the great has terror for its basis; which, 
when it is modified, causes that emotion in the mind which I have 
called astonishment; the beautiful is founded on mere positive 
pleasure, and excites in the soul that feeling which is called love. 
Their causes have made the subject of this fourth part. 



PART V 

SECTION I. OF WORDS 

NATURAL objects affect us, by the laws of that connexion 
which Providence has established between certain mo- 
tions and configurations of bodies, and certain consequent 
feelings in our mind. Painting affects us in the same manner, but 
with the superadded pleasure of imitation. Architecture affects by 
the laws of nature, and the law of reason: from which latter result 
the rules of proportion, which make a work to be praised or cen- 
sured, in the whole or in some part, when the end for which it was 
designed is or is not properly answered. But as to words; they seem 
to me to affect us in a manner very different from that in which 
we are affected by natural objects, or by painting or architecture; 
yet words have as considerable a share in exciting ideas of beauty 
and of the sublime as many of those, and sometimes a much greater 
than any of them: therefore an inquiry into the manner by which 
they excite such emotions is far from being unnecessary in a dis- 
course of this kind. 

SECT. II. THE COMMON EFFECTS OF POETRY, NOT BY RAISING IDEAS OF 

THINGS 

THE common notion of the power of poetry and eloquence, as well 
as that of words in ordinary conversation, is that they affect the 
mind by raising in it ideas of those things for which custom has ap- 
pointed them to stand. To examine the truth of this notion, it may 
be requisite to observe, that words may be divided into three sorts. 
The first are such as represent many simple ideas united by nature 
to form some one determinate composition, as man, horse, tree, 
castle, &c. These I call aggregate words. The second are they that 
stand for one simple idea of such compositions, and no more; as 
red, blue, round, square, and the like. These I call simple abstract 

129 



I3O EDMUND BURKE 

words. The third are those which are formed by an union, an 
arbitrary union, of both the others, and of the various relations be- 
tween them in greater or less degrees of complexity; as virtue, hon- 
our, persuasion, magistrate, and the like. These I call compound 
abstract words. Words, I am sensible, are capable of being classed 
into more curious distinctions; but these seem to be natural, and 
enough for our purpose; and they are disposed in that order in 
which they are commonly taught, and in which the mind gets the 
ideas they are substituted for. I shall begin with the third sort of 
words; compound abstracts, such as virtue, honour, persuasion, do- 
cility. Of these I am convinced, that whatever power they may 
have on the passions, they do not derive it from any representation 
raised in the mind of the things for which they stand. As composi- 
tions, they are not real essences, and hardly cause, I think, any real 
ideas. Nobody, I believe, immediately on hearing the sounds, vir- 
tue, liberty, or honour, conceives any precise notions of the par- 
ticular modes of action and thinking together with the mixt and 
simple ideas and the several relations of them for which these words 
are substituted; neither has he any general idea, compounded of 
them; for if he had, then some of those particular ones, though in- 
distinct perhaps, and confused, might come soon to be perceived. 
But this, I take it, is hardly ever the case. For, put yourself upon 
analyzing one of these words, and you must reduce it from one 
set of general words to another, and then into the simple abstracts 
and aggregates, in a much longer series than may be at first imag- 
ined, before any real idea emerges to light, before you come to 
discover anything like the first principles of such compositions; and 
when you have made such a discovery of the original ideas, the effect 
of the composition is utterly lost. A train of thinking of this sort 
is much too long to be pursued in the ordinary ways of conversa- 
tion; nor is it at all necessary that it should. Such words are in 
reality but mere sounds; but they are sounds which being used on 
particular occasions, wherein we receive some good, or suffer some 
evil, or see others affected with good or evil; or which we hear 
applied to other interesting things or events; and being applied in 
such a variety of cases, that we know readily by habit to what things 
they belong, they produce in the mind, whenever they are after- 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 

wards mentioned, effects similar to those of their occasions. The 
sounds being often used without reference to any particular occa- 
sion, and carrying still their first impressions, they at last utterly 
lose their connexion with the particular occasions that gave rise to 
them; yet the sound, without any annexed notion, continues to 
operate as before. 

SECT. III. GENERAL WORDS BEFORE IDEAS 

MR. LOCKE has somewhere observed, with his usual sagacity, that 
most general words, those belonging to virtue and vice, good and 
evil, especially, are taught before the particular modes of action to 
which they belong are presented to the mind; and with them, the 
love of the one, and the abhorrence of the other; for the minds of 
children are so ductile, that a nurse, or any person about a child, by 
seeming pleased or displeased with anything, or even any word, 
may give the disposition of the child a similar turn. When, after- 
wards, the several occurrences in life come to be applied to these 
words, and that which is pleasant often appears under the name 
of evil; and what is disagreeable to nature is called good and vir- 
tuous; a strange confusion of ideas and affections arises in the minds 
of many; and an appearance of no small contradiction between their 
notions and their actions. There are many who love virtue and who 
detest vice, and this not from hypocrisy or affectation, who not- 
withstanding very frequently act ill and wickedly in particulars 
without the least remorse; because these particular occasions never 
come into view, when the passions on the side of virtue were so 
warmly affected by certain words heated originally by the breath of 
others; and for this reason, it is hard to repeat certain sets of words, 
though owned by themselves unoperative, without being in some 
degree affected; especially if a warm and affecting tone of voice 
accompanies them, as suppose, 

Wise, valiant, generous, good, and great. 

These words, by having no application, ought to be unoperative; 
but when words commonly sacred to great occasions are used, we 
are affected by them even without the occasions. When words 
which have been generally so applied are put together without any 



132 EDMUND BURKE 

rational view, or in such a manner that they do not rightly agree 
with each other, the style is called bombast. And it requires in sev- 
eral cases much good sense and experience to be guarded against 
the force of such language; for when propriety is neglected, a 
greater number of these affecting words may be taken into the service 
and a greater variety may be indulged in combining them. 

SECT. IV. THE EFFECT OF WORDS 

IF words have all their possible extent of power, three effects 
arise in the mind of the hearer. The first is, the sound; the second, 
the picture, or representation of the thing signified by the sound; 
the third is, the affection of the soul produced by one or by both 
of the foregoing. Compounded abstract words, of which we have 
been speaking, (honour, justice, liberty, and the like,) produce the 
first and the last of these effects, but not the second. Simple abstracts 
are used to signify some one simple idea, without much adverting to 
others which may chance to attend it, as blue, green, hot, cold, and 
the like; these are capable of affecting all three of the purposes of 
words; as the aggregate words, man, castle, horse, &c., are in a yet 
higher degree. But I am of opinion, that the most general effect, 
even of these words, does not arise from their forming pictures of 
the several things they would represent in the imagination; because, 
on a very diligent examination of my own mind, and getting others 
to consider theirs, I do not find that once in twenty times any such 
picture is formed, and when it is, there is most commonly a par- 
ticular effort of the imagination for that purpose. But the aggre- 
gate words operate, as I said of the compound-abstracts, not by pre- 
senting any image to the mind, but by having from use the same 
effect on being mentioned, that their original has when it is seen. 
Suppose we were to read a passage to this effect: "The river Danube 
rises in a moist and mountainous soil in the heart of Germany, 
where winding to and fro, it waters several principalities, until, 
turning into Austria, and leaving the walls of Vienna, it passes into 
Hungary; there with a vast flood, augmented by the Saave and the 
Drave, it quits Christendom, and rolling through the barbarous 
countries which border on Tartary, it enters by many mouths in 
the Black Sea." In this description many things are mentioned, as 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 133 

mountains, rivers, cities, the sea, &c. But let anybody examine him- 
self, and see whether he has had impressed on his imagination any 
pictures of a river, mountain, watery soil, Germany, &c. Indeed it is 
impossible, in the rapidity and quick succession of words in con- 
versation to have ideas both of the sound of the word, and of the 
thing represented: besides, some words, expressing real essences, are 
so mixed with others of a general and nominal import, that it is im- 
practicable to jump from sense to thought, from particulars to gen- 
erals, from things to words, in such a manner as to answer the pur- 
poses of life; nor is it necessary that we should. 

SECT. V. EXAMPLES THAT WORDS MAY AFFECT WITHOUT RAISING IMAGES 

I FIND it very hard to persuade several that their passions are 
affected by words from whence they have no ideas; and yet harder 
to convince them, that in the ordinary course of conversation we 
are sufficiently understood without raising any images of the things 
concerning which we speak. It seems to be an odd subject of dispute 
with any man, whether he has ideas in his mind or not. Of this, at 
first view, every man, in his own forum, ought to judge without 
appeal. But, strange as it may appear, we are often at a loss to know 
what ideas we have of things, or whether we have any ideas at all 
upon some subjects. It even requires a good deal of attention to be 
thoroughly satisfied on this head. Since I wrote these papers, I 
found two very striking instances of the possibility there is that a 
man may hear words without having any idea of the things which 
they represent, and yet afterwards be capable of returning them to 
others, combined in a new way, and with great propriety, energy 
and instruction. The first instance is that of Mr. Blacklock, a poet 
blind from his birth. Few men blessed with the most perfect sight 
can describe visual objects with more spirit and justness than this 
blind man; which cannot possibly be attributed to his having a 
clearer conception of the things he describes than is common to 
other persons. Mr. Spence, in an elegant preface which he has writ- 
ten to the works of this poet, reasons very ingeniously, and, I im- 
agine, for the most part, very rightly, upon the cause of this extraor- 
dinary phenomenon; but I cannot altogether agree with him, that 
some improprieties in language and thought, which occur in these 



134 EDMUND BURKE 

poems, have arisen from the blind poet's imperfect conception of 
visual objects, since such improprieties, and much greater, may be 
found in writers even of a higher class than Mr. Blacklock, and 
who notwithstanding possessed the faculty of seeing in its full per- 
fection. Here is a poet doubtless as much affected by his own de- 
scriptions as any that reads them can be; and yet he is affected with 
this strong enthusiasm by things of which he neither has nor can 
possibly have any idea further than that of a bare sound: and why 
may not those who read his works be affected in the same manner 
that he was, with as little of any real ideas of the things described? 
The second instance is of Mr. Saunderson, professor of mathematics 
in the university of Cambridge. This learned man had acquired 
great knowledge in natural philosophy, in astronomy, and whatever 
sciences depend upon mathematical skill. What was the most ex- 
traordinary and the most to my purpose, he gave excellent lectures 
upon light and colours; and this man taught others the theory of 
these ideas which they had, and which he himself undoubtedly had 
not. But it is probable that the words red, blue, green, answered to 
him as well as the ideas of the colours themselves; for the ideas of 
greater or lesser degrees of refrangibility being applied to these 
words, and the blind man being instructed in what other respects 
they were found to agree or to disagree, it was as easy for him to 
reason upon the words, as if he had been fully master of the ideas. 
Indeed it must be owned he could make no new discoveries in the 
way of experiment. He did nothing but what we do every day in 
common discourse. When I wrote this last sentence, and used the 
words every day and common discourse, I had no images in my 
mind of any succession of time; nor of men in conference with each 
other; nor do I imagine that the reader will have any such ideas 
on reading it. Neither when I spoke of red, or blue, and green, as 
well as refrangibility, had I these several colours or the rays of light 
passing into a different medium, and there diverted from their 
course, painted before me in the way of images. I know very well 
that the mind possesses a faculty of raising such images at pleasure; 
but then an act of the will is necessary to this; and in ordinary con- 
versation or reading it is very rarely that any image at all is excited 
in the mind. If I say, "I shall go to Italy next summer," I am well 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 135 

understood. Yet I believe nobody has by this painted in his imagi- 
nation the exact figure of the speaker passing by land or by water, or 
both; sometimes on horseback, sometimes in a carriage; with all the 
particulars of the journey. Still less has he any idea of Italy, the 
country to which I propose to go; or of the greenness of the fields, 
the ripening of the fruits, and the warmth of the air, with the 
change to this from a different season, which are the ideas for which 
the word summer is substituted: but least of all has he any image 
from the word next; for this word stands for the idea of many sum- 
mers, with the exclusion of all but one: and surely the man who 
says next summer, has no images of such a succession and such an 
exclusion. 

In short, it is not only of those ideas which are commonly called 
abstract, and of which no image at all can be formed, but even of 
particular, real beings, that we converse without any idea of them 
excited in the imagination; as will certainly appear on a diligent 
examination of our minds. Indeed, so little does poetry depend for 
its effect on the power of raising sensible images, that I am con- 
vinced it would lose a very considerable part of its energy, if this 
were the necessary result of all description. Because that union of 
affecting words, which is the most powerful of all poetical instru- 
ments, would frequently lose its force, along with its propriety and 
consistency, if the sensible images were always excited. There is 
not perhaps in the whole Eneid a more grand and laboured passage 
than the description of Vulcan's cavern in Etna, and the works that 
are there carried on. Virgil dwells particularly on the formation of 
the thunder, which he describes unfinished under the hammers of 
the Cyclops. But what are the principles of this extraordinary 
composition ? 

Tres imbris tortl radios, tres nubls aquosce 
Addiderant; rutili tres ignis, et alitis austn: 
Fulgores nunc terrificos, sonitumque, metumque 
Miscebant operi, flammisque sequacibus iras. 

This seems to me admirably sublime; yet if we attend coolly to the 
kind of sensible images which a combination of ideas of this sort 
must form, the chimeras of madmen cannot appear more wild and 



136 EDMUND BURKE 

absurd than such a picture. "Three rays of twisted showers, three of 
watery clouds, three of fire, and three of the winged south wind; 
then mixed they in the worl^ terrific lightnings, and sound, and fear, 
and anger, with pursuing flames." This strange composition is 
formed into a gross body; it is hammered by the Cyclops, it is in 
part polished, and partly continues rough. The truth is, if poetry 
gives us a noble assemblage of words corresponding to many noble 
ideas which are connected by circumstances of time or place, or re- 
lated to each other as cause and effect, or associated in any natural 
way, they may be moulded together in any form, and perfectly an- 
swer their end. The picturesque connexion is not demanded; be- 
cause no real picture is formed; nor is the effect of the description 
at all the less upon this account. What is said of Helen by Priam 
and the old men of his council, is generally thought to give us the 
highest possible idea of that fatal beauty. 



Ou vefteo'is, Tpcoas /cat euKv^uiSas 'Axcuoi>s, 
TOM; 8' 0./J.&1 yvvaiid iro\vv XP VOV o.\yea 
Aivus 5' adavarrjcn Offis els COTTO, eoiKev. 

They cried, No wonder such celestial charms 
For nine long years have set the world in arms; 
What winning graces! what majestic mien! 
She moves a goddess, and she looks a queen. POPE. 

Here is not one word said of the particulars of her beauty; nothing 
which can in the least help us to any precise idea of her person; 
but yet we are much more touched by this manner of mentioning 
her than by those long and laboured descriptions of Helen, whether 
handed down by tradition, or formed by fancy, which are to be met 
with in some authors. I am sure it affects me much more than the 
minute description which Spenser has given of Belphebe; though I 
own that there are parts in that description, as there are in all the 
descriptions of that excellent writer, extremely fine and poetical. 

The terrible picture which Lucretius has drawn of religion, in 
order to display the magnanimity of his philosophical hero in 
opposing her, is thought to be designed with great boldness and 
spirit. 

Humana ante oculos fcede cum vita jaceret, 
In terns f oppressa gravi sub religionc, 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 137 

Quce caput e cceli regionibus ostendebat 
Horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans; 
Primus Graius homo mortales tollere contra 
Est oculos ausus. 

What idea do you derive from so excellent a picture? none at all, 
most certainly : neither has the poet said a single word which might 
in the least serve to mark a single limb or feature of the phantom, 
which he intended to represent in all the horrors imagination can 
conceive. In reality, poetry and rhetoric do not succeed in exact de- 
scription so well as painting does; their business is, to aflect rather 
by sympathy than imitation; to display rather the effect of things 
on the mind of the speaker, or of others, than to present a clear idea 
of the things themselves. This is their most extensive province, and 
that in which they succeed the best. 

SECT. VI. POETRY NOT STRICTLY AN IMITATIVE ART 

HENCE we may observe that poetry, taken in its most general 
sense, cannot with strict propriety be called an art of imitation. It 
is indeed an imitation so far as it describes the manners and pas- 
sions of men which their words can express; where animi motus 
effert interprete lingua. There it is strictly imitation; and all merely 
dramatic poetry is of this sort. But descriptive poetry operates chiefly 
by substitution; by the means of sounds, which by custom have the 
effect of realities. Nothing is an imitation further than as it resem- 
bles some other thing; and words undoubtedly have no sort of re- 
semblance to the ideas, for which they stand. 

SECT. VII. HOW WORDS INFLUENCE THE PASSIONS 

Now, as words affect, not by any original power, but by represen- 
tation, it might be supposed, that their influence over the passions 
should be but light; yet it is quite otherwise; for we find by experi- 
ence, that eloquence and poetry are as capable, nay indeed much 
more capable, of making deep and lively impressions than any other 
arts, and even than nature itself in very many cases. And this arises 
chiefly from these three causes. First, that we take an extraordi- 
nary part in the passions of others, and that we are easily affected 



138 EDMUND BURKE 

and brought into sympathy by any tokens which are shown of them; 
and there are no tokens which can express all the circumstances of 
most passions so fully as words; so that if a person speaks upon any 
subject, he can not only convey the subject to you, but likewise the 
manner in which he is himself affected by it. Certain it is, that the 
influence of most things on our passions is not so much from the 
things themselves, as from our opinions concerning them; and these 
again depend very much on the opinions of other men, conveyable 
for the most part by words only. Secondly, there are many things 
of a very affecting nature, which can seldom occur in the reality, 
but the words that represent them often do; and thus they have an 
opportunity of making a deep impression and taking root in the 
mind, whilst the idea of the reality was transient; and to some per- 
haps never really occurred in any shape, to whom it is notwith- 
standing very affecting, as war, death, famine, &c. Besides, many 
ideas have never been at all presented to the senses of any men but 
by words, as God, angels, devils, heaven, and hell, all of which have, 
however, a great influence over the passions. Thirdly, by words 
we have it in our power to make such combinations as we cannot 
possibly do otherwise. By this power of combining, we are able, 
by the addition of well-chosen circumstances, to give a new life and 
force to the simple object. In painting we may represent any fine 
figure we please; but we never can give it those enlivening touches 
which it may receive from words. To represent an angel in a pic- 
ture, you can only draw a beautiful young man winged: but what 
painting can furnish out anything so grand as the addition of one 
word, "the angel of the Lord"? It is true, I have here no clear idea; 
but these words affect the mind more than the sensible image did; 
which is all I contend for. A picture of Priam dragged to the altar's 
foot, and there murdered, if it were well executed, would undoubt- 
edly be very moving, but there are very aggravating circumstances, 
which it could never represent: 

Sanguine foedantem quos ipse saeraverat ignes. 

As a further instance, let us consider those lines of Milton, where 
he describes the travels of the fallen angels through their dismal 
habitation: 



ON THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL 139 

O'er many a dark and dreary vale 

They passed, and many a region dolorous; 

O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp; 

Rocks, caves, lakes, fens, bogs, dens, and shades of death, 

A universe of death. 

Here is displayed the force of union in 

Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens, and shades; 

which yet would lose the greatest part of their effect, if they were 
not the 

Rocks, caves, lakes, dens, bogs, fens, and shades 

of Death. 

This idea or this affection caused by a word, which nothing but a 
word could annex to the others, raises a very great degree of the 
sublime; and this sublime is raised yet higher by what follows, a 
"universe of Death" Here are again two ideas not presentable but 
by language; and an union of them great and amazing beyond con- 
ception; if they may properly be called ideas which present no dis- 
tinct image to the mind: but still it will be difficult to conceive 
how words can move the passions which belong to real objects, 
without representing these objects clearly. This is difficult to us, 
because we do not sufficiently distinguish, in our observations upon 
language, between a clear expression and a strong expression. These 
are frequently confounded with each other, though they are in real- 
ity extremely different. The former regards the understanding, the 
latter belongs to the passions. The one describes a thing as it is; 
the latter describes it as it is felt. Now, as there is a moving tone of 
voice, an impassioned countenance, an agitated gesture, which affect 
independently of the things about which they are exerted, so there 
are words, and certain dispositions of words, which being peculiarly 
devoted to passionate subjects; and always used by those who are 
under the influence of any passion, touch and move us more than 
those which far more clearly and distinctly express the subject mat- 
ter. We yield to sympathy what we refuse to description. The truth 
is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never 
so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing de- 
scribed, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker 



I4O EDMUND BURKE 

did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong 
and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our pas- 
sions, we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably 
might never have been struck out by the object described. Words, 
by strongly conveying the passions, by those means which we have 
already mentioned, fully compensate for their weakness in other re- 
spects. It may be observed, that very polished languages, and such 
as are praised for their superior clearness and perspicuity, are gen- 
erally deficient in strength. The French language has that perfec- 
tion and that defect, whereas the Oriental tongues, and in general 
the languages of most unpolished people, have a great force and 
energy of expression; and this is but natural. Uncultivated people 
are but ordinary observers of things, and not critical in distinguish- 
ing them; but, for that reason, they admire more, and are more 
affected with what they see, and therefore express themselves in a 
warmer and more passionate manner. If the affection be well con- 
veyed, it will work its effect without any clear idea, often without 
any idea at all of -the thing which has originally given rise to it. 

It might be expected from the fertility of the subject, that I should 
consider poetry, as it regards the sublime and beautiful, more at 
large; but it must be observed that in this light it has been often 
and well handled already. It was not my design to enter into the 
criticism of the sublime and beautiful in any art, but to attempt to 
lay down such principles as may tend to ascertain, to distinguish, and 
to form a sort of standard for them; which purposes I thought 
might be best effected by an inquiry into the properties of such 
things in nature, as raise love and astonishment in us; and by show- 
ing in what manner they operated -to produce these passions. Words 
were only so far to be considered, as to show upon what principle 
they were capable of being the representatives of these natural 
things, and by what powers they were able to affect us often as 
strongly as the things they represent, and sometimes much more 
strongly. 



REFLECTIONS 



ON 

THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

AND 

ON THE PROCEEDINGS IN CERTAIN SOCIETIES 
IN LONDON RELATIVE TO THAT EVENT 

IN A LETTER 

INTENDED TO HAVE BEEN SENT 
TO A GENTLEMAN IN PARIS 

1790 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

THE characteristic passion of Burke's life was his love of order. In 
spite of the varying relations held by him toward the different parties in 
England during his political career, one may easily find the key to his 
consistency in this central principle. When the King's party sought to 
increase the royal prerogative, he resisted; when the old Whigs sought 
to make the government of the country a means to the enrichment of 
their class, he resisted; and when the sympathizers with the Revolution 
sought, as Burke thought, to abolish government, he resisted. Liberty 
he claimed that he loved, but "a liberty connected with order"; and in 
each of the political movements just mentioned he discerned an attack 
on either liberty or order. He had a profound veneration for the ac- 
cumulated wisdom of centuries of experience, and held that the bounds 
of liberty should be enlarged with great caution and very gradually. 
That a political system had lasted a long time was to him an argument 
that it must to a large extent be fit for its purpose, and that therefore it 
should not be rashly changed. 

With such views, Burke was bound to oppose the French Revolution. 
The sweeping away of the traditions of ages, the erection of new forms 
of government built on abstract theories, were abhorrent to him; and 
he threw himself with vehemence into opposition. Much that was hope- 
ful in the Revolution he failed to see; and he could not in his passion 
discriminate carefully among men and motives. But his treatment of the 
situation in these "Reflections," written before the Terror had begun to 
alienate sympathy, shows great insight and prophetic wisdom. This 
book led the reaction in England and made its author a European figure. 
In this country to-day, with our traditional sympathy with the great 
upheaval, it is in the highest degree valuable to see these momentous 
events through the eyes of a great contemporary conservative. 



REFLECTIONS 



ON 



THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

IN A LETTER 

INTENDED TO HAVE BEEN SENT 
TO A GENTLEMAN IN PARIS 

[1790] 

IT MAY not be unnecessary to inform the reader, that the follow- 
ing Reflections had their origin in a correspondence between 
the Author and a very young gentleman at Paris, who did him 
the honour of desiring his opinion upon the important transactions, 
which then, and ever since, have so much occupied the attention of 
all men. An answer was written some time in the month of October, 
1789; but it was kept back upon prudential considerations. That 
letter is alluded to in the beginning of the following sheets. It has 
been since forwarded to the person to whom it was addressed. The 
reasons for the delay in sending it were assigned in a short letter 
to the same gentleman. This produced on his part a new and press- 
ing application for the Author's sentiments. 

The Author began a second and more full discussion on the sub- 
ject. This he had some thoughts of publishing early in the last 
spring; but, the matter gaining upon him, he found that what he 
had undertaken not only far exceeded the measure of a letter, but 
that its importance required rather a more detailed consideration 
than at that time he had any leisure to bestow upon it. However, 
having thrown down his first thoughts in the form of a letter, 
and, indeed, when he sat down to write, having intended it for a 
private letter, he found it difficult to change the form of address, 
when his sentiments had grown into a greater extent, and had re- 

143 



144 EDMUND BURKE 

ceived another direction. A different plan, he is sensible, might be 
more favourable to a commodious division and distribution of his 
matter. 



DEAR SIR, 

You are pleased to call again, and with some earnestness, for my 
thoughts on the late proceedings in France. I will not give you 
reason to imagine that I think my sentiments of such value as to 
wish myself to be solicited about them. They are of too little conse- 
quence to be very anxiously either communicated or withheld. It 
was from attention to you, and to you only, that I hesitated at the 
time when you first desired to receive them. In the first letter I had 
the honour to write to you, and which at length I send, I wrote 
neither for, nor from, any description of men; nor shall I in this. 
My errors, if any, are my own. My reputation alone is to answer for 
them. 

You see, Sir, by the long letter I have transmitted to you, that 
though I do most heartily wish that France may be animated by a 
spirit of rational liberty, and that I think you bound, in all honest 
policy, to provide a permanent body in which that spirit may 
reside, and an effectual organ by which it may act, it is my misfor- 
tune to entertain great doubts concerning several material points in 
your late transactions. 

You imagined, when you wrote last, that I might possibly be 
reckoned among the approvers of certain proceedings in France, 
from the solemn public seal of sanction they have received from 
two clubs of gentlemen in London, called the Constitutional Society, 
and the Revolution Society. 

I certainly have the honour to belong to more clubs than one, in 
which the constitution of this kingdom, and the principles of the 
glorious Revolution, are held in high reverence and I reckon myself 
among the most forward in my zeal for maintaining that constitu- 
tion and those principles in their utmost purity and vigour. It is 
because I do so that I think it necessary for me that there should be 
no mistake. Those who cultivate the memory of our Revolution, 
and those who are attached to the constitution of this kingdom, will 
take good care how they are involved with persons, who under the 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 145 

pretext of zeal towards the Revolution and constitution too fre- 
quently wander from their true principles; and are ready on every 
occasion to depart from the firm but cautious and deliberate spirit 
which produced the one, and which presides in the other. Before I 
proceed to answer the more material particulars in your letter, I shall 
beg leave to give you such information as I have been able to 
obtain of the two clubs which have thought proper, as bodies, to 
interfere in the concerns of France; first assuring you, that I am 
not, and that I have never been, a member of either of those societies. 

The first, calling itself the Constitutional Society, or Society for 
Constitutional Information, or by some such title, is, I believe, of 
seven or eight years standing. The institution of this society ap- 
pears to be of a charitable, and so far of a laudable nature: it was 
intended for the circulation, at the expense of the members, of many 
books, which few others would be at the expense of buying; and 
which might lie on the hands of the booksellers, to the great loss 
of an useful body of men. Whether the books, so charitably circu- 
lated, were ever as charitably read, is more than I know. Possibly 
several of them have been exported to France; and, like goods not 
in request here, may with you have found a market. I have heard 
much talk of the lights to be drawn from books that are sent from 
hence. What improvements they have had in their passage (as it is 
said some liquors are meliorated by crossing the sea) I cannot tell: 
but I never heard a man of common judgment, or the least degree 
of information, speak a word in praise of the greater part of the 
publications circulated by that society; nor have their proceedings 
been accounted, except by some of themselves, as of any serious con- 
sequence. 

Your National Assembly seems to entertain much the same opin- 
ion that I do of this poor charitable club. As a nation, you reserved 
the whole stock of your eloquent acknowledgments for the Revolu- 
tion Society; when their fellows in the Constitutional were, in 
equity, entitled to some share. Since you have selected the Revolu- 
tion Society as the great object of your national thanks and praises, 
you will think me excusable in making its late conduct the subject 
of my observations. The National Assembly of France has given 
importance to these gentlemen by adopting them: and they return 



146 EDMUND BURKE 

the favour, by acting as a committee in England for extending the 
principles of the National Assembly. Henceforward we must con- 
sider them as a kind of privileged persons; as no inconsiderable 
members in the diplomatic body. This is one among the revolutions 
which have given splendour to obscurity, and distinction to undis- 
cerned merit. Until very lately I do not recollect to have heard of this 
club. I am quite sure that it never occupied a moment of my 
thoughts; nor, I believe, those of any person out of their own set. I 
find, upon inquiry, that on the anniversary of the Revolution in 
1688, a club of dissenters, but of what denomination I know not, 
have long had the custom of hearing a sermon in one of their 
churches; and that afterwards they spent the day cheerfully, as other 
clubs do, at the tavern. But I never heard that any public measure, 
or political system, much less that the merits of the constitution of 
any foreign nation, had been the subject of a formal proceeding at 
their festivals; until, to my inexpressible surprise, I found them in 
a sort of public capacity, by a congratulatory address, giving an 
authoritative sanction to the proceedings of the National Assembly 
in France. 

In the ancient principles and conduct of the club, so far at least 
as they were declared, I see nothing to which I could take exception. 
I think it very probable, that for some purpose, new members may 
have entered among them; and that some truly Christian politicians, 
who love to dispense benefits, but are careful to conceal the hand 
which distributes the dole, may have made them the instruments of 
their pious designs. Whatever I may have reason to suspect concern- 
ing private management, I shall speak of nothing as of a certainty 
but what is public. 

For one, I should be sorry to be thought, directly or indirectly, 
concerned in their proceedings. I certainly take my full share, along 
with the rest of the world, in my individual and private capacity, in 
speculating on what has been done, or is doing, on the public stage, 
in any place ancient or modern; in the republic of Rome, or the 
republic of Paris; but having no general apostolical mission, being 
a citizen of a particular state, and being bound up, in a consider- 
able degree, by its public will, I should think it at least improper and 
irregular for me to open a formal public correspondence with the 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 147 

actual government of a foreign nation, without the express authority 
of the government under which I live. 

I should be still more unwilling to enter into that correspondence 
under anything like an equivocal description, which to many, un- 
acquainted with our usages, might make the address, in which I 
joined, appear as the act of persons in some sort of corporate ca- 
pacity, acknowledged by the laws of this kingdom, and authorized 
to speak the sense of some part of it. On account of the ambi- 
guity and uncertainty of unauthorized general descriptions, and of 
the deceit which may be practised under them, and not from mere 
formality, the House of Commons would reject the most sneaking 
petition for the most trifling object, under that mode of signature 
to which you have thrown open the folding doors of your presence 
chamber, and have ushered into your National Assembly with as 
much ceremony and parade, and with as great a bustle of applause, 
as if you had been visited by the whole representative majesty of 
the whole English nation. If what this society has thought proper 
to send forth had been a piece of argument, it would have signified 
little whose argument it was. It would be neither the more nor the 
less convincing on account of the party it came from. But this is 
only a vote and resolution. It stands solely on authority; and in this 
case it is the mere authority of individuals, few of whom appear. 
Their signatures ought, in my opinion, to have been annexed to 
their instrument. The world would then have the means of know- 
ing how many they are; who they are; and of what value their opin- 
ions may be, from their personal abilities, from their knowledge, 
their experience, or their lead and authority in this state. To me, 
who am but a plain man, the proceeding looks a little too refined, 
and too ingenious; it has too much the air of a political stratagem, 
adopted for the sake of giving, under a high-sounding name, an 
importance to the public declarations of this club, which, when the 
matter came to be closely inspected, they did not altogether so 
well deserve. It is a policy that has very much the complexion of 
a fraud. 

I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regulated liberty as well 
as any gentleman of that society, be he who he will; and perhaps 
I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that cause, in the 



148 EDMUND BURKE 

whole course of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little 
as they do, to any other nation. But I cannot stand forward, and 
give praise or blame to anything which relates to human actions, 
and human concerns, on a simple view of the object, as it stands 
stripped of every relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of meta- 
physical abstraction. Circumstances (which with some gentlemen 
pass for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its dis- 
tinguishing colour and discriminating effect. The circumstances 
are what render every civil and political scheme beneficial or noxious 
to mankind. Abstractedly speaking, government, as well as liberty, 
is good; yet could I, in common sense, ten years ago, have felicitated 
France on her enjoyment of a government (for she then had a gov- 
ernment) without inquiry what the nature of that government was, 
or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the same 
nation upon its freedom? Is it because liberty in the abstract may 
be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to 
felicitate a mad-man, who has escaped from the protecting restraint 
and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoy- 
ment of light and liberty ? Am I to congratulate a highwayman and 
murderer, who has broke prison, upon the recovery of his natural 
rights? This would be to act over again the scene of the criminals 
condemned to the galleys, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphysic 
knight of the sorrowful countenance. 

When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle 
at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The 
wild gas, the fixed air, is plainly broke loose: but we ought to sus- 
pend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, 
till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than 
the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably 
sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a blessing, 
that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the re- 
ceiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the 
people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratula- 
tions on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had 
been combined with government; with public force; with the disci- 
pline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective 
and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 149 

solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social 
manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without 
them, liberty is not a benefit whilst it lasts, and is not likely to con- 
tinue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is that they may do 
what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, 
before we risk congratulations, which may be soon turned into 
complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate, in- 
sulated, private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. 
Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the 
use which is made of power; and particularly of so trying a thing 
as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and 
dispositions they have little or no experience, and in situations, where 
those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be 
the real movers. 

All these considerations however were below the transcendental 
dignity of the Revolution Society. Whilst I continued in the country, 
from whence I had the honour of writing to you, I had but an im- 
perfect idea of their transactions. On my coming to town, I sent for 
an account of their proceedings, which had been published by their 
authority, containing a sermon of Dr. Price, with the Duke de 
Rochefaucault's and the Archbishop of Aix's letter, and several other 
documents annexed. The whole of that publication, with the mani- 
fest design of connecting the affairs of France with those of Eng- 
land, by drawing us into an imitation of the conduct of the Na- 
tional Assembly, gave me a considerable degree of uneasiness. The 
effect of that conduct upon the power, credit, prosperity, and tran- 
quillity of France, became every day more evident. The form of 
constitution to be settled, for its future polity, became more clear. 
We are now in a condition to discern, with tolerable exactness, the 
true nature of the object held up to our imitation. If the prudence 
of reserve and decorum dictates silence in some circumstances, in 
others prudence of a higher order may justify us in speaking our 
thoughts. The beginnings of confusion with us in England are at 
present feeble enough; but, with you, we have seen an infancy, still 
more feeble, growing by moments into a strength to heap moun- 
tains upon mountains, and to wage war with heaven itself. When- 
ever our neighbour's house is on fire, it cannot be amiss for the 



150 EDMUND BURKE 

engines to play a little on our own. Better to be despised for too 
anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident a security. 

Solicitous chiefly for the peace of my own country, but by no 
means unconcerned for yours, I wish to communicate more largely 
what was at first intended only for your private satisfaction. I shall 
still keep your affairs in my eye, and continue to address myself to 
you. Indulging myself in the freedom of epistolary intercourse, I 
beg leave to throw out my thoughts, and express my feelings, just 
as they arise in my mind, with very little attention to formal method. 
I set out with the proceedings of the Revolution Society; but I shall 
not confine myself to them. Is it possible I should? It appears 
to me as if I were in a great crisis, not of the affairs of France 
alone, but of all Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All circum- 
stances taken together, the French Revolution is the most astonish- 
ing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful 
things are brought about in many instances by means the most ab- 
surd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and, apparently, 
by the most contemptible instruments. Everything seems out of na- 
ture in this strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of 
crimes jumbled together with all sorts of follies. In viewing this 
monstrous tragi-comic scene, the most opposite passions necessarily 
succeed, and sometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate 
contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate 
scorn and horror. 

It cannot, however, be denied, that to some this strange scene ap- 
peared in quite another point of view. Into them it inspired no other 
sentiments than those of exultation and rapture. They saw nothing 
in what has been done in France, but a firm and temperate exertion 
of freedom; so consistent, on the whole, with morals and with piety 
as to make it deserving not only of the secular applause of dashing 
Machiavelian politicians, but to render it a fit theme for all the 
devout effusions of sacred eloquence. 

On the forenoon of the 4th of November last, Doctor Richard 
Price, a non-conforming minister of eminence, preached at the dis- 
senting meeting-house of the Old Jewry, to his club or society, a 
very extraordinary miscellaneous sermon, in which there are some 
good moral and religious sentiments, and not ill expressed, mixed 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

up in a sort of porridge of various political opinions and reflections; 
but the Revolution in France is the grand ingredient in the cauldron. 
I consider the address transmitted by the Revolution Society to the 
National Assembly, through Earl Stanhope, as originating in the 
principles of the sermon, and as a corollary from them. It was 
moved by the preacher of that discourse. It was passed by those 
who came reeking from the effect of the sermon, without any cen- 
sure or qualification, expressed or implied. If, however, any of the 
gentlemen concerned shall wish to separate the sermon from the 
resolution, they know how to acknowledge the one, and to disavow 
the other. They may do it: I cannot. 

For my part, I looked on that sermon as the public declaration of 
a man much connected with literary caballers, and intriguing phi- 
losophers; with political theologians, and theological politicians, both 
at home and abroad. I know they set him up as a sort of oracle; 
because, with the best intentions in the world, he naturally philip- 
pizes, and chants his prophetic song in exact unison with their 
designs. 

That sermon is in a strain which I believe has not been heard in 
this kingdom, in any of the pulpits which are tolerated or encour- 
aged in it, since the year 1648; when a predecessor of Dr. Price, the 
Rev. Hugh Peters, made the vault of the king's own chapel at St. 
James's ring with the honour and privilege of the saints, who, with 
the "high praises of God in their mouths, and a /^o-edged sword in 
their hands, were to execute judgment on the heathen and punish- 
ments upon the people; to bind their kings with chains, and their 
nobles with fetters of iron." 1 Few harangues from the pulpit, ex- 
cept in the days of your league in France, or in the days of our 
solemn league and covenant in England, have ever breathed less of 
the spirit of moderation than this lecture in the Old Jewry. Sup- 
posing, however, that something like moderation were visible in 
this political sermon; yet politics and the pulpit are terms that have 
little agreement. No sound ought to be heard in the church but 
the healing voice of Christian charity. The cause of civil liberty 
and civil government gains as little as that of religion by this con- 
fusion of duties. Those who quit their proper character, to assume 

1 Psalm cxlix. 



152 EDMUND BURKE 

what does not belong to them, are, for the greater part, ignorant both 
of the character they leave, and of the character they assume. Wholly 
unacquainted with the world in which they are so fond of meddling, 
and inexperienced in all its affairs, on which they pronounce with 
so much confidence, they have nothing of politics but the passions 
they excite. Surely the church is a place where one day's truce ought 
to be allowed to the dissensions and animosities of mankind. 

This pulpit style, revived after so long a discontinuance, had to 
me the air of novelty, and of a novelty not wholly without danger. 
I do not charge this danger equally to every part of the discourse. 
The hint given to a noble and reverend lay-divine, who is supposed 
high in office in one of our universities, 2 and other lay-divines "of 
ran\ and literature," may be proper and seasonable, though some- 
what new. If the noble Seeders should find nothing to satisfy their 
pious fancies in the old staple of the national church, or in all the 
rich variety to be found in the well-assorted warehouses of the dis- 
senting congregations, Dr. Price advises them to improve upon non- 
conformity; and to set up, each of them, a separate meeting-house 
upon his own particular principles. 3 It is somewhat remarkable 
that this reverend divine should be so earnest for setting up new 
churches, and so perfectly indifferent concerning the doctrine which 
may be taught in them. His zeal is of a curious character. It is 
not for the propagation of his own opinions, but of any opinions. 
It is not for the diffusion of truth, but for the spreading of contra- 
diction. Let the noble teachers but dissent, it is no matter from 
whom or from what. This great point once secured, it is taken 
for granted their religion will be rational and manly. I doubt 
whether religion would reap all the benefits which the calculating 
divine computes from this "great company of great preachers." It 
would certainly be a valuable addition of nondescripts to the ample 
collection of known classes, genera and species, which at present 
beautify the hortus siccus of dissent. A sermon from a noble duke, 

2 Discourse on the Love of our Country, Nov. 4th, 1789, by Dr. Richard Price, 
3rd edition, p. 17 and 18. 

3 "Those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed by public authority, 
ought, if they can find no worship out of the church which they approve, to set up a 
separate worship for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a 
rational and manly worship, men of weight from their rank, and literature may do 
the greatest service to society and the world." P. 18, Dr. Price's Sermon. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 153 

or a noble marquis, or a noble earl, or baron bold, would certainly 
increase and diversify the amusements of this town, which begins 
to grow satiated with the uniform round of its vapid dissipations. 
I should only stipulate that these new Mess-Johns in robes and coro- 
nets should keep some sort of bounds in the democratic and levelling 
principles which are expected from their titled pulpits. The new 
evangelists will, I dare say, disappoint the hopes that are conceived 
of them. They will not become, literally as well as figuratively, 
polemic divines, nor be disposed so to drill their congregations, that 
they may, as in former blessed times, preach their doctrines to regi- 
ments of dragoons and corps of infantry and artillery. Such arrange- 
ments, however favourable to the cause of compulsory freedom, 
civil and religious, may not be equally conducive to the national tran- 
quillity. These few restrictions I hope are no great stretches of 
intolerance, no very violent exertions of despotism. 

But I may say of our preacher, "utinam nugis tota ilia dedisset 
tempora scevitice." All things in this his fulminating bull are not 
of so innoxious a tendency. His doctrines affect our constitution in 
its vital parts. He tells the Revolution Society in this political ser- 
mon, that his Majesty "is almost the only lawful king in the world, 
because the only one who owes his crown to the choice of his 
people." As to the kings of the world, all of whom (except one) 
this archpontiff of the rights of men, with all the plenitude, and 
with more than the boldness, of the papal deposing power in its 
meridian fervour of the twelfth century, puts into one sweeping 
clause of ban and anathema, and proclaims usurpers by circles of 
longitude and latitude, over the whole globe, it behoves them to 
consider how they admit into their territories these apostolic mis- 
sionaries, who are to tell their subjects they are not lawful kings. 
That is their concern. It is ours, as a domestic interest of some 
moment, seriously to consider the solidity of the only principle upon 
which these gentlemen acknowledge a king of Great Britain to be 
entitled to their allegiance. 

This doctrine, as applied to the prince now on the British throne, 
either is nonsense, and therefore neither true nor false, or it affirms 
a most unfounded, dangerous, illegal, and unconstitutional position. 
According to this spiritual doctor of politics, if his Majesty does not 



154 EDMUND BURKE 

owe his crown to the choice of his people, he is no lawful %ing. Now 
nothing can be more untrue than that the crown of this kingdom 
is so held by his Majesty. Therefore if you follow their rule, the 
king of Great Britain, who most certainly does not owe his high 
office to any form of popular election, is in no respect better than 
the rest of the gang of usurpers, who reign, or rather rob, all over 
the face of this our miserable world, without any sort of right or 
title to the allegiance of their people. The policy of this general 
doctrine, so qualified, is evident enough. The propagators of this 
political gospel are in hopes that their abstract principle (their prin- 
ciple that a popular choice is necessary to the legal existence of the 
sovereign magistracy) would be overlooked, whilst the king of 
Great Britain was not affected by it. In the mean time the ears of 
their congregations would be gradually habituated to it, as if it were 
a first principle admitted without dispute. For the present it would 
only operate as a theory, pickled in the preserving juices of pulpit 
eloquence, and laid by for future use. Condo et compono quce mox 
depromere possim. By this policy, whilst our government is 
soothed with a reservation in its favour, to which it has no claim, 
the security, which it has in common with all governments, so far 
as opinion is security, is taken away. 

Thus these politicians proceed, whilst little notice is taken of their 
doctrines; but when they come to be examined upon the plain 
meaning of their words, and the direct tendency of their doctrines, 
then equivocations and slippery constructions come into play. When 
they say the king owes his crown to the choice of his people, and is 
therefore the only lawful sovereign in the world, they will perhaps 
tell us they mean to say no more than that some of the king's pred- 
ecessors have been called to the throne by some sort of choice; and 
therefore he owes his crown to the choice of his people. Thus, by a 
miserable subterfuge, they hope to render their proposition safe, by 
rendering it nugatory. They are welcome to the asylum they seek 
for their offence, since they take refuge in their folly. For, if you ad- 
mit this interpretation, how does their idea of election differ from 
our idea of inheritance? 

And how does the settlement of the crown in the Brunswick line 
derived from James the First come to legalize our monarchy, rather 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 155 

than that of any of the neighbouring countries? At some time or 
other, to be sure, all the beginners of dynasties were chosen by those 
who called them to govern. There is ground enough for the opinion 
that all the kingdoms of Europe were, at a remote period, elective, 
with more or fewer limitations in the objects of choice. But what- 
ever kings might have been here, or elsewhere, a thousand years 
ago, or in whatever manner the ruling dynasties of England or 
France may have begun, the king of Great Britain is, at this day, 
king by a fixed rule of succession, according to the laws of his 
country; and whilst the legal conditions of the compact of sover- 
eignty are performed by him, (as they are performed,) he holds his 
crown in contempt of the choice of the Revolution Society, who 
have not a single vote for a king amongst them, either individually 
or collectively; though I make no doubt they would soon erect them- 
selves into an electoral college, if things were ripe to give effect to 
their claim. His Majesty's heirs and successors, each in his time and 
order, will come to the crown with the same contempt of their 
choice with which his Majesty has succeeded to that he wears. 

Whatever may be the success of evasion in explaining away the 
gross error of fact, which supposes that his Majesty (though he 
holds it in concurrence with the wishes) owes his crown to the 
choice of his people, yet nothing can evade their full explicit declara- 
tion concerning the principle of a right in the people to choose; 
which right is directly maintained, and tenaciously adhered to. All 
the oblique insinuations concerning election bottom in this proposi- 
tion, and are referable to it. Lest the foundation of the king's ex- 
clusive legal title should pass for a mere rant of adulatory freedom, 
the political divine proceeds dogmatically to assert, 4 that, by the 
principles of the Revolution, the people of England have acquired 
three fundamental rights, all which, with him, compose one sys- 
tem, and lie together in one short sentence; namely, that we have 
acquired a right 

1. "To choose our own governors." 

2. "To cashier them for misconduct." 

3. "To frame a government for ourselves." 

This new, and hitherto unheard-of, bill of rights, though made in 

4 P. 34. Discourse on the Love of our Country, by Dr. Price. 



156 EDMUND BURKE 

the name of the whole people, belongs to those gentlemen and their 
faction only. The body of the people of England have no share in 
it. They utterly disclaim it. They will resist the practical assertion 
of it with their lives and fortunes. They are bound to do so by the 
laws of their country, made at the time of that very Revolution 
which is appealed to in favour of the fictitious rights claimed by the 
Society which abuses its name. 

These gentlemen of the Old Jewry, in all their reasonings on the 
Revolution of 1688, have a Revolution which happened in England 
about forty years before, and the late French Revolution, so much 
before their eyes, and in their hearts, that they are constantly con- 
founding all the three together. It is necessary that we should sepa- 
rate what they confound. We must recall their erring fancies to the 
acts of the Revolution which we revere, for the discovery of its true 
principles. If the principles of the Revolution of 1688 are anywhere 
to be found, it is in the statute called the Declaration of Right. In 
that most wise, sober, and considerate declaration, drawn up by 
great lawyers and great statesmen, and not by warm and inexperi- 
enced enthusiasts, not one word is said, nor one suggestion made, 
of a general right "to choose our own governors; to cashier them for 
misconduct; and to form a government for ourselves." 

This Declaration of Right (the act of the ist of William and 
Mary, sess. 2, ch. 2) is the corner-stone of our constitution, as rein- 
forced, explained, improved, and in its fundamental principles for 
ever settled. It is called "An Act for declaring the rights and liber- 
ties of the subject, and for settling the succession of the crown." You 
will observe, that these rights and this succession are declared in 
one body, and bound indissolubly together. 

A few years after this period, a second opportunity offered for 
asserting a right of election to the crown. On the prospect of a total 
failure of issue from King William, and from the Princess, after- 
wards Queen Anne, the consideration of the settlement of the crown, 
and of a further security for the liberties of the people, again came 
before the legislature. Did they this second time make any pro- 
vision for legalizing the crown on the spurious revolution princi- 
ples of the Old Jewry? No. They followed the principles which 
prevailed in the Declaration of Right; indicating with more pre- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 157 

cision the persons who were to inherit in the Protestant line. This 
act also incorporated, by the same policy, our liberties, and an 
hereditary succession in the same act. Instead of a right to choose 
our own governors, they declared that the succession in that line 
(the Protestant line drawn from James the First) was absolutely 
necessary "for the peace, quiet, and security of the realm," and that 
it was equally urgent on them "to maintain a certainty in the suc- 
cession thereof, to which the subjects may safely have recourse for 
their protection." Both these acts, in which are heard the unerring, 
unambiguous oracles of revolution policy, instead of countenanc- 
ing the delusive, gipsy predictions of a "right to choose our gov- 
ernors," prove to a demonstration how totally adverse the wis- 
dom of the nation was from turning a case of necessity into a rule 
of law. 

Unquestionably there was at the Revolution, in the person of 
King William, a small and a temporary deviation from the strict 
order of a regular hereditary succession; but it is against all genu- 
ine principles of jurisprudence to draw a principle from a law made 
in a special cas?, and regarding an individual person. Privilegium 
non transit in exemplum. If ever there was a time favourable for 
establishing the principle, that a king of popular choice was the only 
legal king, without all doubt it was at the Revolution. Its not being 
done at that time is a proof that the nation was of opinion it ought 
not to be done at any time. There is no person so completely igno- 
rant of our history as not to know, that the majority in parliament of 
both parties were so little disposed to anything resembling that prin- 
ciple, that at first they were determined to place the vacant crown, 
not on the head of the Prince of Orange, but on that of his wife 
Mary, daughter of King James, the eldest born of the issue of that 
king, which they acknowledged as undoubtedly his. It would be to 
repeat a very trite story, to recall to your memory all those circum- 
stances which demonstrated that their accepting King William 
was not properly a choice; but to all those who did not wish, in 
effect, to recall King James, or to deluge their country in blood, and 
again to bring their religion, laws, and liberties into the peril they 
had just escaped, it was an act of necessity, in the strictest moral 
sense in which necessity can be taken. 



158 EDMUND BURKE 

In the very act, in which for a time, and in a single case, parlia- 
ment departed from the strict order of inheritance, in favour of a 
prince, who, though not next, was however very near, in the line of 
succession, it is curious to observe how Lord Somers, who drew the 
bill called the Declaration of Right, has comported himself on that 
delicate occasion. It is curious to observe with what address this 
temporary solution of continuity is kept from the eye; whilst all 
that could be found in this act of necessity to countenance the idea 
of an hereditary succession is brought forward, and fostered, and 
made the most of, by this great man, and by the legislature who 
followed him. Quitting the dry, imperative style of an act of parlia- 
ment, he makes the Lords and Commons fall to a pious, legislative 
ejaculation, and declare, that they consider it "as a marvellous provi- 
dence, and merciful goodness of God to this nation, to preserve 
their said Majesties' royal persons, most happily to reign over us 
on the throne of their ancestors, for which, from the bottom of their 
hearts, they return their humblest thanks and praises." The legis- 
lature plainly had in view the act of recognition of the first of Queen 
Elizabeth, chap. 3rd, and of that of James the First, chap, ist, both 
acts strongly declaratory of the inheritable nature of the crown, and 
in many parts they follow, with a nearly literal precision, the words 
and even the form of thanksgiving which is found in these old 
declaratory statutes. 

The two Houses, in the act of King William, did not thank God 
that they had found a fair opportunity to assert a right to choose 
their own governors, much less to make an election the only lawful 
title to the crown. Their having been in a condition to avoid the 
very appearance of it, as much as possible, was by them considered 
as a providential escape. They threw a politic, well-wrought veil 
over every circumstance tending to weaken the rights, which in the 
meliorated order of succession they meant to perpetuate; or which 
might furnish a precedent for any future departure from what they 
had then settled for ever. Accordingly, that they might not relax 
the nerves of their monarchy, and that they might preserve a close 
conformity to the practice of their ancestors, as it appeared in the 
declaratory statutes of Queen Mary 5 and Queen Elizabeth, in the 

5 ist Mary, sess. 3. ch. i. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 159 

next clause they vest, by recognition, in their Majesties, all the legal 
prerogatives of the crown, declaring, "that in them they are most 
fully, rightfully, and entirely invested, incorporated, united, and 
annexed." In the clause which follows, for preventing questions, by 
reason of any pretended titles to the crown, they declare, (observing 
also in this the traditionary language, along with the traditionary 
policy of the nation, and repeating as from a rubric the language of 
the preceding acts of Elizabeth and James,) that on the preserving 
"a certainty in the SUCCESSION thereof, the unity, peace, and tran- 
quillity of this nation doth, under God, wholly depend." 

They knew that a doubtful title of succession would but too much 
resemble an election; and that an election would be utterly destruc- 
tive of the "unity, peace, and tranquillity of this nation," which 
they thought to be considerations of some moment. To provide for 
these objects, and therefore to exclude for ever the Old Jewry doc- 
trine of "a right to choose our own governors," they follow with a 
clause containing a most solemn pledge, taken from the preceding 
act of Queen Elizabeth, as solemn a pledge as ever was or can be 
given in favour of an hereditary succession, and as solemn a renun- 
ciation as could be made of the principles by this Society imputed to 
them. "The Lords spiritual and temporal, and Commons, do, in the 
name of all the people aforesaid, most humbly and faithfully submit 
themselves, their heirs and posterities for ever; and do faithfully 
promise that they will stand to maintain, and defend their said 
Majesties, and also the limitation of the crown, herein specified and 
contained, to the utmost of their powers," &c. &c. 

So far is it from being true, that we acquired a right by the Revolu- 
tion to elect our kings, that if we had possessed it before, the English 
nation did at that time most solemnly renounce and abdicate it, for 
themselves, and for all their posterity for ever. These gentlemen 
may value themselves as much as they please on their Whig princi- 
ples; but I never desire to be thought a better Whig than Lord 
Somers; or to understand the principles of the Revolution better 
than those by whom it was brought about; or to read in the Dec- 
laration of Right any mysteries unknown to those whose penetrat- 
ing style has engraved in our ordinances, and in our hearts, the 
words and spirit of that immortal law. 



l6o EDMUND BURKE 

It is true, that, aided with the powers derived from force and 
opportunity, the nation was at that time, in some sense, free to take 
what course it pleased for filling the throne; but only free to do so 
upon the same grounds on which they might have wholly abolished 
their monarchy, and every other part of their constitution. How- 
ever, they did not think such bold changes within their commis- 
sion. It is indeed difficult, perhaps impossible, to give limits to the 
mere abstract competence of the supreme power, such as was exer- 
cised by parliament at that time; but the limits of a moral compe- 
tence, subjecting, even in powers more indisputably sovereign, oc- 
casional will to permanent reason, and to the steady maxims of 
faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy, are perfectly intelligi- 
ble, and perfectly binding upon those who exercise any authority, 
under any name, or under any title, in the state. The House of 
Lords, for instance, is not morally competent to dissolve the House 
of Commons; no, nor even to dissolve itself, nor to abdicate, if it 
would, its portion in the legislature of the kingdom. Though a king 
may abdicate for his own person, he cannot abdicate for the mon- 
archy. By as strong, or by a stronger reason, the House of Com- 
mons cannot renounce its share of authority. The engagement and 
pact of society, which generally goes by the name of the constitution, 
forbids such invasion and such surrender. The constituent parts of 
a state are obliged to hold their public faith with each other, and 
with all those who derive any serious interest under their engage- 
ments, as much as the whole state is bound to keep its faith with 
separate communities. Otherwise competence and power would 
soon be confounded, and no law be left but the will of a prevailing 
force. On this principle the succession of the crown has always been 
what it now is, an hereditary succession by law: in the old line it 
was a succession by the common law; in the new by the statute 
law, operating on the principles of the common law, not changing 
the substance, but regulating the mode, and describing the persons. 
Both these descriptions of law are of the same force, and are derived 
from an equal authority, emanating from the common agreement 
and original compact of the state, communi sponsione reipublicce, 
and as such are equally binding on king and people too, as long as 
the terms are observed, and they continue the same body politic. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE l6l 

It is far from impossible to reconcile, if we do not suffer our- 
selves to be entangled in the mazes of metaphysic sophistry, the use 
both of a fixed rule and an occasional deviation; the sacredness of 
an hereditary principle of succession in our government, with a 
power of change in its application in cases of extreme emergency. 
Even in that extremity, (if we take the measure of our rights by 
our exercise of them at the Revolution,) the change is to be con- 
fined to the peccant part only; to the part which produced the neces- 
sary deviation; and even then it is to be effected without a decom- 
position of the whole civil and political mass, for the purpose of 
originating a new civil order out of the first elements of society. 

A state without the means of some change is without the means 
of its conservation. Without such means it might even risk the 
loss of that part of the constitution which it wished the most re- 
ligiously to preserve. The two principles of conservation and cor- 
rection operated strongly at the two critical periods of the Restora- 
tion and Revolution, when England found itself without a king. 
At both those periods the nation had lost the bond of union in their 
ancient edifice; they did not, however, dissolve the whole fabric. 
On the contrary, in both cases they regenerated the deficient part 
of the old constitution through the parts which were not impaired. 
They kept these old parts exactly as they were, that the part re- 
covered might be suited to them. They acted by the ancient or- 
ganized states in the shape of their old organization, and not by the 
organic molecules of a disbanded people. At no time, perhaps, did 
the sovereign legislature manifest a more tender regard to that fun- 
damental principle of British constitutional policy, than at the time 
of the Revolution, when it deviated from the direct line of hereditary 
succession. The crown was carried somewhat out of the line in 
which it had before moved; but the new line was derived from the 
same stock. It was still a line of hereditary descent; still an heredi- 
tary descent in the same blood, though an hereditary descent quali- 
fied with Protestantism. When the legislature altered the direction, 
but kept the principle, they showed that they held it inviolable. 

On this principle, the law of inheritance had admitted some 
amendment in the old time, and long before the era of the Revolu- 
tion. Some time after the conquest, great questions arose upon the 



1 62 EDMUND BURKE 

legal principles of hereditary descent. It became a matter of doubt, 
whether the heir per capita or the heir per stirpes was to succeed; 
but whether the heir per capita gave way when the heirdom per 
stirpes took place, or the Catholic heir when the Protestant was pre- 
ferred, the inheritable principle survived with a sort of immortality 
through all transmigrations multosque per annos stat jortuna do- 
mus, et avi numerantur avorum. This is the spirit of our constitu- 
tion, not only in its settled course, but in all its revolutions. Who- 
ever came in, or, however he came in, whether he obtained the 
crown by law, or by force, the hereditary succession was either con- 
tinued or adopted. The gentlemen of the Society for Revolutions 
see nothing in that of 1688 but the deviation from the constitution; 
and they take the deviation from the principle for the principle. 
They have little regard to the obvious consequences of their doc- 
trine, though they must see, that it leaves positive authority in very 
few of the positive institutions of this country. When such an un- 
warrantable maxim is once established, that no throne is lawful but 
the elective, no one act of the princes who preceded this era of ficti- 
tious election can be valid. Do these theorists mean to imitate some 
of their predecessors, who dragged the bodies of our ancient sover- 
eigns out of the quiet of their tombs? Do they mean to attaint and 
disable backwards all the kings that have reigned before the Revo- 
lution, and consequently to stain the throne of England with the 
blot of a continual usurpation? Do they mean to invalidate, annul, 
or to call into question, together with the titles of the whole line of 
our kings, that great body of our statute law which passed under 
those whom they treat as usurpers? to annul laws of inestimable 
value to our liberties of as great value at least as any which have 
passed at or since the period of the Revolution? If kings, who did 
not owe their crown to the choice of their people, had no title to 
make laws, what will become of the statute de tallagio non con- 
cedendo? of the petition of right? of the act of habeas corpus? 
Do these new doctors of the rights of men presume to assert, that 
King James the Second, who came to the crown as next of blood, 
according to the rules of a then unqualified succession, was not to 
all intents and purposes a lawful king of England, before he had 
done any of those acts which were justly construed into an 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 163 

abdication of his crown ? If he was not, much trouble in parliament 
might have been saved at the period these gentlemen commemo- 
rate. But King James was a bad king with a good title, and not an 
usurper. The princes who succeeded according to the act of parlia- 
ment which settled the crown on the Electress Sophia and on her 
descendants, being Protestants, came in as much by a title of in- 
heritance as King James did. He came in according to the law, as 
it stood at his accession to the crown; and the princes of the House 
of Brunswick came to the inheritance of the crown, not by election, 
but by the law as it stood at their several accessions of Protestant 
descent and inheritance, as I hope I have shown sufficiently. 

The law, by which this royal family is specifically destined to the 
succession, is the act of the i2th and I3th of King William. The 
terms of this act bind "us and our heirs, and our posterity, to them, 
their heirs, and their posterity," being Protestants, to the end of 
time, in the same words as the Declaration of Right had bound us 
to the heirs of King William and Queen Mary. It therefore secures 
both an hereditary crown and an hereditary allegiance. On what 
ground, except the constitutional policy of forming an establish- 
ment to secure that kind of succession which is to preclude a choice 
of the people for ever, could the legislature have fastidiously re- 
jected the fair and abundant choice which our country presented to 
them, and searched in strange lands for a foreign princess, from 
whose womb the line of our future rulers were to derive their title 
to govern millions of men through a series of ages? 

The Princess Sophia was named in the act of settlement of the 
i2th and I3th of King William, for a stoc{ and root of inheritance 
to our kings, and not for her merits as a temporary administratrix 
of a power, which she might not, and in fact did not, herself ever 
exercise. She was adopted for one reason, and for one only, because, 
says the act, "the most excellent Princess Sophia, Electress and Duch- 
ess Dowager of Hanover, is daughter of the most excellent Princess 
Elizabeth, late Queen of Bohemia, daughter of our late sovereign 
lord King James the First, of happy memory, and is hereby de- 
clared to be the next in succession in the Protestant line," &c., &c.; 
"and the crown shall continue to the heirs of her body, being Prot- 
estants." This limitation was made by parliament, that through the 



164 EDMUND BURKE 

Princess Sophia an inheritable line not only was to be continued in 
future, but (what they thought very material) that through her it 
was to be connected with the old stock of inheritance in King James 
the First; in order that the monarchy might preserve an unbroken 
unity through all ages, and might be preserved (with safety to our 
religion) in the old approved mode by descent, in which, if our 
liberties had been once endangered, they had often, through all 
storms and struggles of prerogative and privilege, been preserved. 
They did well. No experience has taught us, that in any other 
course or method than that of an hereditary crown our liberties 
can be regularly perpetuated and preserved sacred as our hereditary 
right. An irregular, convulsive movement may be necessary to throw 
off an irregular, convulsive disease. But the course of succession is 
the healthy habit of the British constitution. Was it that the legis- 
lature wanted, at the act for the limitation of the crown in the 
Hanoverian line, drawn through the female descendants of James 
the First, a due sense of the inconveniences of having two or three, 
or possibly more, foreigners in succession to the British throne? 
No! they had a due sense of the evils which might happen from 
such foreign rule, and more than a due sense of them. But a more 
decisive proof cannot be given of the full conviction of the British 
nation, that the principles of the Revolution did not authorize them 
to elect kings at their pleasure, and without any attention to the an- 
cient fundamental principles of our government, than their continu- 
ing to adopt a plan of hereditary Protestant succession in the old 
line, with all the dangers and all the inconveniences of its being a 
foreign line full before their eyes, and operating with the utmost 
force upon their minds. 

A few years ago I should be ashamed to overload a matter, so 
capable of supporting itself, by the then unnecessary support of any 
argument; but this seditious, unconstitutional doctrine is now pub- 
licly taught, avowed, and printed. The dislike I feel to revolutions, 
the signals for which have so often been given from pulpits; the 
spirit of change that is gone abroad; the total contempt which pre- 
vails with you, and may come to prevail with us, of all ancient in- 
stitutions, when set in opposition to a present sense of convenience, 
or to the bent of a present inclination : all these considerations make 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 165 

it not unadvisable, in my opinion, to call back our attention to the 
true principles of our own domestic laws; that, you, my French 
friend, should begin to know, and that we should continue to cherish 
them. We ought not, on either side of the water, to suffer ourselves 
to be imposed upon by the counterfeit wares which some persons, by 
a double fraud, export to you in illicit bottoms, as raw commodities 
of British growth, though wholly alien to our soil, in order after- 
wards to smuggle them back again into this country, manufactured 
after the newest Paris fashion of an improved liberty. 

The people of England will not ape the fashions they have never 
tried, nor go back to those which they have found mischievous on 
trial. They look upon the legal hereditary succession of their crown 
as among their rights, not as among their wrongs; as a benefit, not 
as a grievance; as a security for their liberty, not as a badge of servi- 
tude. They look on the frame of their commonwealth, such as it 
stands, to be of inestimable value; and they conceive the undisturbed 
succession of the crown to be a pledge of the stability and perpetuity 
of all the other members of our constitution. 

I shall beg leave, before I go any further, to take notice of some 
paltry artifices, which the abettors of election, as the only lawful 
title to the crown, are ready to employ, in order to render the sup- 
port of the just principles of our constitution a task somewhat in- 
vidious. These sophisters substitute a fictitious cause, and feigned 
personages, in whose favour they suppose you engaged, whenever 
you defend the inheritable nature of the crown. It is common with 
them to dispute as if they were in a conflict with some of those ex- 
ploded fanatics of slavery, who formerly maintained, what I be- 
lieve no creature now maintains, "that the crown is held by divine 
hereditary and indefeasible right." These old fanatics of single ar- 
bitrary power dogmatized as if hereditary royalty was the only law- 
ful government in the world, just as our new fanatics of popular ar- 
bitrary power maintain that a popular election is the sole lawful 
source of authority. The old prerogative enthusiasts, it is true, did 
speculate foolishly, and perhaps impiously too, as if monarchy had 
more of a divine sanction than any other mode of government; and 
as if a right to govern by inheritance were in strictness indefeasible 
in every person, who should be found in the succession to a throne, 



1 66 EDMUND BURKE 

and under every circumstance, which no civil or political right can 
be. But an absurd opinion concerning the king's hereditary right to 
the crown does not prejudice one that is rational, and bottomed upon 
solid principles of law and policy. If all the absurd theories of law- 
yers and divines were to vitiate the objects in which they are con- 
versant, we should have no law and no religion left in the world. 
But an absurd theory on one side of a question forms no justification 
for alleging a false fact, or promulgating mischievous maxims, on 
the other. 

The second claim of the Revolution Society is "a right of cashier- 
ing their governors for misconduct." Perhaps the apprehensions our 
ancestors entertained of forming such a precedent as that "of cash- 
iering for misconduct," was the cause that the declaration of the act, 
which implied the abdication of King James, was, if it had any 
fault, rather too guarded, and too circumstantial. 6 But all this guard, 
and all this accumulation of circumstances, serves to show the spirit 
of caution which predominated in the national councils in a situa- 
tion in which men irritated by oppression, and elevated by a tri- 
umph over it, are apt to abandon themselves to violent and extreme 
courses: it shows the anxiety of the great men who influenced the 
conduct of affairs at that great event to make the Revolution a 
parent of settlement, and not a nursery of future revolutions. 

No government could stand a moment, if it could be blown down 
with anything so loose and indefinite as an opinion of "misconduct." 
They who led at the Revolution grounded the virtual abdication of 
King James upon no such light and uncertain principle. They 
charged him with nothing less than a design, confirmed by a multi- 
tude of illegal overt acts, to subvert the Protestant church and state, 
and their fundamental, unquestionable laws and liberties: they 
charged him with having broken the original contract between 
king and people. This was more than misconduct. A grave and 
overruling necessity obliged them to take the step they took, and 
took with infinite reluctance, as under that most rigorous of all 

6 "That King James the Second, having endeavoured to subvert the constitution 
of the kingdom by breaking the original contract between King and people, and, 
by the advice of Jesuits, and other wicked persons, having violated the fundamental 
laws, and having withdrawn himself out of the kingdom, hath abdicated the govern- 
ment, and the throne is thereby vacant." 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 167 

laws. Their trust for the future preservation of the constitution was 
not in future revolutions. The grand policy of all their regulations 
was to render it almost impracticable for any future sovereign to 
compel the states of the kingdom to have again recourse to those 
violent remedies. They left the crown what, in the eye and estima- 
tion of law, it had never been, perfectly irresponsible. In order to 
lighten the crown still further, they aggravated responsibility on 
ministers of state. By the statute of the ist of King William, sess. 
2nd, called "the act for declaring the rights and liberties of the sub- 
ject, and for settling the succession to the crown" they enacted, that 
the ministers should serve the crown on the terms of that declara- 
tion. They secured soon after the frequent meetings of parliament, 
by which the whole government would be under the constant in- 
spection and active control of the popular representative and of the 
magnates of the kingdom. In the next great constitutional act, that 
of the 1 2th and i3th of King William, for the further limitation of 
the crown, and better securing the rights and liberties of the subject, 
they provided, "that no pardon under the great seal of England 
should be pleadable to an impeachment by the Commons in parlia- 
ment." The rule laid down for government in the Declaration of 
Right, the constant inspection of parliament, the practical claim of 
impeachment, they thought infinitely a better security not only for 
their constitutional liberty, but against the vices of administration, 
than the reservation of a right so difficult in the practice, so uncertain 
in the issue, and often so mischievous in the consequences, as that 
of "cashiering their governors." 

Dr. Price, in his sermon, 7 condemns very properly the practice of 
gross, adulatory addresses to kings. Instead of this fulsome style, 
he proposes that his Majesty should be told, on occasions of con- 
gratulation, that "he is to consider himself as more properly the 
servant than the sovereign of his people." For a compliment, this 
new form of address does not seem to be very soothing. Those who 
are servants in name, as well as in effect, do not like to be told of 
their situation, their duty, and their obligations. The slave, in the 
old play, tells his master, "Hcec commemoratio est quasi exprobatio." 
It is not pleasant as compliment; it is not wholesome as instruc- 

7 P. 22-24. 



1 68 EDMUND BURKE 

tion. After all, if the king were to bring himself to echo this new 
kind of address, to adopt it in terms, and even to take the appella- 
tion of Servant of the People as his royal style, how either he or we 
should be much mended by it, I cannot imagine. I have seen very 
assuming letters, signed, Your most obedient, humble servant. The 
proudest denomination that ever was endured on earth took a title 
of still greater humility than that which is now proposed for sover- 
eigns by the Apostle of Liberty. Kings and nations were trampled 
upon by the foot of one calling himself "the Servant of Servants;" 
and mandates for deposing sovereigns were sealed with the signet of 
"the Fisherman." 

I should have considered all this as no more than a sort of flip- 
pant, vain discourse, in which, as in an unsavoury fume, several 
persons suffer the spirit of liberty to evaporate, if it were not plainly 
in support of the idea, and a part of the scheme, of "cashiering 
kings for misconduct." In that light it is worth some observation. 

Kings, in one sense, are undoubtedly the servants of the people, 
because their power has no other rational end than that of the gen- 
eral advantage; but it is not true that they are, in the ordinary sense, 
(by our constitution at least,) anything like servants; the essence of 
whose situation is to obey the commands of some other, and to be 
removable at pleasure. But the king of Great Britain obeys no other 
person; all other persons are individually, and collectively too, under 
him, and owe to him a legal obedience. The law, which knows 
neither to flatter nor to insult, calls this high magistrate, not our 
servant, as this humble divine calls him, but "our sovereign Lord 
the king;" and we, on our parts, have learned to speak only the 
primitive language of the law, and not the confused jargon of their 
Babylonian pulpits. 

As he is not to obey us, but as we are to obey the law in him, 
our constitution has made no sort of provision towards rendering 
him, as a servant, in any degree responsible. Our constitution 
knows nothing of a magistrate like the Justicia of Arragon; nor of 
any court legally appointed, nor of any process legally settled, for 
submitting the king to the responsibility belonging to all servants. 
In this he is not distinguished from the Commons and the Lords; 
who, in their several public capacities, can never be called to an 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 169 

account for their conduct; although the Revolution Society chooses 
to assert, in direct opposition to one o the wisest and most beautiful 
parts of our constitution, that "a king is no more than the first serv- 
ant of the public, created by it, and responsible to it" 

111 would our ancestors at the Revolution have deserved their fame 
for wisdom, if they had found no security for their freedom, but in 
rendering their government feeble in its operations, and precarious 
in its tenure; if they had been able to contrive no better remedy 
against arbitrary power than civil confusion. Let these gentlemen 
state who that representative public is to whom they will affirm the 
king, as a servant, to be responsible. It will then be time enough 
for me to produce to them the positive statute law which affirms that 
he is not. 

The ceremony of cashiering kings, of which these gentlemen 
talk so much at their ease, can rarely, if ever, be performed without 
force. It then becomes a case of war, and not of constitution. Laws 
are commanded to hold their tongues amongst arms; and tribunals 
fall to the ground with the peace they are no longer able to uphold. 
The Revolution of 1688 was obtained by a just war, in the only case 
in which any war, and much more a civil war, can be just. "J usta 
bella quibus necessaria" The question of dethroning, or, if these 
gentlemen like the phrase better, "cashiering kings," will always 
be, as it has always been, an extraordinary question of state, and 
wholly out of the law; a question (like all other questions of state) 
of dispositions, and of means, and of probable consequences, rather 
than of positive rights. As it was not made for common abuses, so 
it is not to be agitated by common minds. The speculative line of 
demarcation, where obedience ought to end, and resistance must 
begin, is faint, obscure, and not easily definable. It is not a single act, 
or a single event, which determines it. Governments must be abused 
and deranged indeed, before it can be thought of; and the prospect 
of the future must be as bad as the experience of the past. When 
things are in that lamentable condition, the nature of the disease is 
to indicate the remedy to those whom nature has qualified to ad- 
minister in extremities this critical, ambiguous, bitter potion to a 
distempered state. Times, and occasions, and provocations, will 
teach their own lessons. The wise will determine from the gravity 



I7O EDMUND BURKE 

of the case; the irritable, from sensibility to oppression; the high- 
minded, from disdain and indignation at abusive power in un- 
worthy hands; the brave and bold, from the love of honourable 
danger in a generous cause: but, with or without right, a revolu- 
tion will be the very last resource of the thinking and the good. 

The third head of right, asserted by the pulpit of the Old Jewry, 
namely, the "right to form a government for ourselves," has, at least, 
as little countenance from anything done at the Revolution, either 
in precedent or principle, as the two first of their claims. The Revo- 
lution was made to preserve our ancient, indisputable laws and lib- 
erties, and that ancient constitution of government which is our 
only security for law and liberty. If you are desirous of knowing the 
spirit of our constitution, and the policy which predominated in 
that great period which has secured it to this hour, pray look for 
both in our histories, in our records, in our acts of parliament, and 
journals of parliament, and not in the sermons of the Old Jewry, 
and the after-dinner toasts of the Revolution Society. In the former 
you will find other ideas and another language. Such a claim is as 
ill-suited to our temper and wishes as it is unsupported by any ap- 
pearance of authority. The very idea of the fabrication of a new 
government is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished 
at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we 
possess as an inheritance from our forefathers. Upon that body and 
stock of inheritance we have taken care not to inoculate any scion 
alien to the nature of the original plant. All the reformations we 
have hitherto made have proceeded upon the principle of reverence 
to antiquity; and I hope, nay I am persuaded, that all those which 
possibly may be made hereafter, will be carefully formed upon 
analogical precedent, authority, and example. 

Our oldest reformation is that of Magna Charta. You will see 
that Sir Edward Coke, that great oracle of our law, and indeed all 
the great men who follow him, to Blackstone, 8 are industrious to 
prove the pedigree of our liberties. They endeavour to prove, that 
the ancient charter, the Magna Charta of King John, was connected 
with another positive charter from Henry I., and that both the one 
and the other were nothing more than a re-affirmance of the still 

8 See Blackstone's Magna Charta, printed at Oxford, 1759. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

more ancient standing law of the kingdom. In the matter of fact, 
for the greater part, these authors appear to be in the right; perhaps 
not always; but if the lawyers mistake in some particulars, it proves 
my position still the more strongly; because it demonstrates the pow- 
erful prepossession towards antiquity, with which the minds of all 
our lawyers and legislators, and of all the people whom they wish 
to influence, have been always filled; and the stationary policy of 
this kingdom in considering their most sacred rights and franchises 
as an inheritance. 

In the famous law of the 3rd of Charles L, called the Petition of 
Right, the parliament says to the king, "Your subjects have inherited 
this freedom," claiming their franchises not on abstract principles 
"as the rights of men," but as the rights of Englishmen, and as a 
patrimony derived from their forefathers. Selden, and the other 
profoundly learned men, who drew this Petition of Right, were as 
well acquainted, at least, with all the general theories concerning 
the "rights of men," as any of the discoursers in our pulpits, or on 
your tribune; full as well as Dr. Price, or as the Abbe Sieves. But, for 
reasons worthy of that practical wisdom which superseded their 
theoretic science, they preferred this positive, recorded, hereditary 
title to all which can be dear to the man and the citizen, to that 
vague speculative right, which exposed their sure inheritance to be 
scrambled for and torn to pieces by every wild, litigious spirit. 

The same policy pervades all the laws which have since been 
made for the preservation of our liberties. In the ist of William and 
Mary, in the famous statute, called the Declaration of Right, the 
two Houses utter not a syllable of "a right to frame a government 
for themselves." You will see, that their whole care was to secure 
the religion, laws, and liberties, that had been long possessed, and 
had been lately endangered. "Taking 9 into their most serious con- 
sideration the best means for making such an establishment, that 
their religion, laws, and liberties might not be in danger of being 
again subverted," they auspicate all their proceedings, by stating as 
some of those best means, "in the first place" to do "as their ances- 
tors in life cases have usually done for vindicating their ancient 
rights and liberties, to declare ;" and then they pray the king and 

9 i W. and M. 



172 EDMUND BURKE 

queen, "that it may be declared and enacted, that all and singular 
the rights and liberties asserted and declared, are the true ancient 
and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom." 

You will observe, that from Magna Charta to the Declaration of 
Right, it has been the uniform policy of our constitution to claim 
and assert our liberties, as an entailed inheritance derived to us from 
our forefathers, and to be transmitted to our posterity; as an estate 
specially belonging to the people of this kingdom, without any ref- 
erence whatever to any other more general or prior right. By this 
means our constitution preserves a unity in so great a diversity of 
its parts. We have an inheritable crown; an inheritable peerage; 
and a House of Commons and a people inheriting privileges, fran- 
chises, and liberties, from a long line of ancestors. 

This policy appears to me to be the result of profound reflection; 
or rather the happy effect of following nature, which is wisdom 
without reflection, and above it. A spirit of innovation is generally 
the result of a selfish temper, and confined views. People will not 
look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their an- 
cestors. Besides, the people of England well know, that the idea of 
inheritance furnishes a sure principle of conservation, and a sure 
principle of transmission; without at all excluding a principle of im- 
provement. It leaves acquisition free; but it secures what it acquires. 
Whatever advantages are obtained by a state proceeding on these 
maxims, are locked fast as in a sort of family settlement; grasped as 
in a kind of mortmain for ever. By a constitutional policy, working 
after the pattern of nature, we receive, we hold, we transmit our 
government and our privileges, in the same manner in which we 
enjoy and transmit our property and our lives. The institutions of 
policy, the goods of fortune, the gifts of providence, are handed 
down to us, and from us, in the same course and order. Our political 
system is placed in a just correspondence and symmetry with the 
order of the world, and with the mode of existence decreed to a 
permanent body composed of transitory parts; wherein, by the dispo- 
sition of a stupendous wisdom, moulding together the great myste- 
rious incorporation of the human race, the whole, at one time, is 
never old, or middle-aged, or young, but, in a condition of unchange- 
able constancy, moves on through the varied tenor of perpetual 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 173 

decay, fall, renovation, and progression. Thus, by preserving the 
method of nature in the conduct of the state, in what we improve, 
we are never wholly new; in what we retain, we are never wholly 
obsolete. By adhering in this manner and on those principles to our 
forefathers, we are guided not by the superstition of antiquarians, 
but by the spirit of philosophic analogy. In this choice of inheritance 
we have given to our frame of polity the image of a relation in blood; 
binding up the constitution of our country with our dearest domes- 
tic ties; adopting our fundamental laws into the bosom of our family 
affections; keeping inseparable, and cherishing with the warmth of 
all their combined and mutually reflected charities, our state, our 
hearths, our sepulchres, and our altars. 

Through the same plan of a conformity to nature in our artificial 
institutions, and by calling in the aid of her unerring and powerful 
instincts, to fortify the fallible and feeble contrivances of our reason, 
we have derived several other, and those no small benefits, from con- 
sidering our liberties in the light of an inheritance. Always acting 
as if in the presence of canonized forefathers, the spirit of freedom, 
leading in itself to misrule and excess, is tempered with an awful 
gravity. This idea of a liberal descent inspires us with a sense of 
habitual native dignity, which prevents that upstart insolence almost 
inevitably adhering to and disgracing those who are the first ac- 
quirers of any distinction. By this means our liberty becomes a noble 
freedom. It carries an imposing and majestic aspect. It has a pedi- 
gree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns 
armorial. It has its gallery of portraits; its monumental inscriptions; 
its records, evidences, and titles. We procure reverence to our civil 
institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere 
individual men; on account of their age, and on account of those 
from whom they are descended. All your sophisters cannot produce 
anything better adapted to preserve a rational and manly freedom 
than the course that we have pursued, who have chosen our nature 
rather than our speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions, 
for the great conservatories and magazines of our rights and privi- 
leges. 

You might, if you pleased, have profited of our example, and have 
given to your recovered freedom a correspondent dignity. Your 



174 EDMUND BURKE 

privileges, though discontinued, were not lost to memory. Your 
constitution, it is true, whilst you were out of possession, suffered 
waste and dilapidation; but you possessed in some parts the walls, 
and, in all, the foundations, of a noble and venerable castle. You 
might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old 
foundations. Your constitution was suspended before it was per- 
fected; but you had the elements of a constitution very nearly as 
good as could be wished. In your old states you possessed that variety 
of parts corresponding with the various descriptions of which your 
community was happily composed; you had all that combination, 
and all that opposition of interests, you had that action and counter- 
action, which, in the natural and in the political world, from the 
reciprocal struggle of discordant powers, draws out the harmony of 
the universe. These opposed and conflicting interests, which you con- 
sidered as so great a blemish in your old and in our present constitu- 
tion, interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions. They 
render deliberation a matter not of choice, but of necessity; they 
make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets 
moderation; they produce temperaments preventing the sore evil of 
harsh, crude, unqualified reformations; and rendering all the head- 
long exertions of arbitrary power, in the few or in the many for ever 
impracticable. Through that diversity of members and interests, gen- 
eral liberty had as many securities as there were separate views in the 
several orders; whilst by pressing down the whole by the weight of a 
real monarchy, the separate parts would have been prevented from 
warping, and starting from their allotted places. 

You had all these advantages in your ancient states; but you chose 
to act as if you had never been moulded into civil society, and had 
everything to begin anew. You began ill, because you began by 
despising everything that belonged to you. You set up your trade 
without a capital. If the last generations of your country appeared 
without much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, 
and derived your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under 
a pious predilection for those ancestors, your imaginations would 
have realized in them a standard of virtue and wisdom, beyond the 
vulgar practice of the hour; and you would have risen with the 
example to whose imitation you aspired. Respecting your fore- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 175 

fathers, you would have been taught to respect yourselves. You 
would not have chosen to consider the French as a people of yester- 
day, as a nation of low-born servile wretches until the emancipating 
year of 1789. In order to furnish, at the expense of your honour, an 
excuse to your apologists here for several enormities of yours, you 
would not have been content to be represented as a gang of Maroon 
slaves, suddenly broke loose from the house of bondage, and there- 
fore to be pardoned for your abuse of the liberty to which you were 
not accustomed, and ill fitted. Would it not, my worthy friend, have 
been wiser to have you thought, what I, for one, always thought you, 
a generous and gallant nation, long misled to your disadvantage by 
your high and romantic sentiments of fidelity, honour, and loyalty; 
that events had been unfavourable to you, but that you were not 
enslaved through any illiberal or servile disposition; that in your 
most devoted submission, you were actuated by a principle of pub- 
lic spirit, and that it was your country you worshipped, in the person 
of your king? Had you made it to be understood, that in the delu- 
sion of this amiable error you had gone further than your wise 
ancestors; that you were resolved to resume your ancient privileges, 
whilst you preserved the spirit of your ancient and your recent loy- 
alty and honour; or if, diffident of yourselves, and not clearly dis- 
cerning the almost obliterated constitution of your ancestors, you 
had looked to your neighbours in this land, who had kept alive the 
ancient principles and models of the old common law of Europe 
meliorated and adapted to its present state by following wise ex- 
amples you would have given new examples of wisdom to the world. 
You would have rendered the cause of liberty venerable in the eyes 
of every worthy mind in every nation. You would have shamed des- 
potism from the earth, by showing that freedom was not only 
reconcilable, but, as when well disciplined it is, auxiliary to law. 
You would have had an unoppressive but a productive revenue. 
You would have had a flourishing commerce to feed it. You would 
have had a free constitution; a potent monarchy; a disciplined army; 
a reformed and venerated clergy; a mitigated but spirited nobility, to 
lead your virtue, not to overlay it; you would have had a liberal 
order of commons, to emulate and to recruit that nobility; you would 
have had a protected, satisfied, laborious, and obedient people, taught 



176 EDMUND BURKE 

to seek and to recognise the happiness that is to be found by virtue 
in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of man- 
kind, and not in that monstrous fiction, which, by inspiring false 
ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure 
walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter that 
real inequality, which it never can remove; and which the order of 
civil life establishes as much for the benefit of those whom it must 
leave in an humble state, as those whom it is able to exalt to a con- 
dition more splendid, but not more happy. You had a smooth and 
easy career of felicity and glory laid open to you, beyond anything 
recorded in the history of the world; but you have shown that 
difficulty is good for man. 

Compute your gains : see what is got by those extravagant and pre- 
sumptuous speculations which have taught your leaders to despise all 
their predecessors, and all their contemporaries, and even to despise 
themselves, until the moment in which they became truly despicable. 
By following those false lights, France has bought undisguised 
calamities at a higher price than any nation has purchased the most 
unequivocal blessings! France has bought poverty by crime! France 
has not sacrificed her virtue to her interest, but she has abandoned 
her interest, that she might prostitute her virtue. All other nations 
have begun the fabric of a new government, or the reformation of 
an old, by establishing originally, or by enforcing with greater exact- 
ness, some rites or other of religion. All other people have laid the 
foundations of civil freedom in severer manners, and a system of a 
more austere and masculine morality. France, when she let loose the 
reins of regal authority, doubled the license of a ferocious dissolute- 
ness in manners, and of an insolent irreligion in opinions and prac- 
tices; and has extended through all ranks of life, as if she were com- 
municating some privilege, or laying open some secluded benefit, all 
the unhappy corruptions that usually were the disease of wealth and 
power. This is one of the new principles of equality in France. 

France, by the perfidy of her leaders, has utterly disgraced the tone 
of lenient council in the cabinets of princes, and disarmed it of its 
most potent topics. She has sanctified the dark, suspicious maxims of 
tyrannous distrust; and taught kings to tremble at (what will here- 
after be called) the delusive plausibilities of moral politicians. Sov- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 177 

ereigns will consider those, who advise them to place an unlimited 
confidence in their people, as subverters of their thrones; as traitors 
who aim at their destruction, by leading their easy good-nature, 
under specious pretences, to admit combinations of bold and faith- 
less men into a participation of their power. This alone (if there 
were nothing else) is an irreparable calamity to you and to man- 
kind. Remember that your parliament of Paris told your king, 
that, in calling the states together, he had nothing to fear but the 
prodigal excess of their zeal in providing for the support of the 
throne. It is right that these men should hide their heads. It is right 
that they should bear their part in the ruin which their counsel has 
brought on their sovereign and their country. Such sanguine decla- 
rations tend to lull authority asleep; to encourage it rashly to engage 
in perilous adventures of untried policy; to neglect those provisions, 
preparations, and precautions, which distinguish benevolence from 
imbecility; and without which no man can answer for the salutary 
effect of any abstract plan of government or of freedom. For want 
of these, they have seen the medicine of the state corrupted into its 
poison. They have seen the French rebel against a mild and lawful 
monarch, with more fury, outrage, and insult, than ever any people 
has been known to rise against the most illegal usurper, or the most 
sanguinary tyrant. Their resistance was made to concession; their 
revolt was from protection; their blow was aimed at a hand holding 
out graces, favours, and immunities. 

This was unnatural. The rest is in order. They have found their 
punishment in their success. Laws overturned; tribunals subverted; 
industry without vigour; commerce expiring; the revenue unpaid, 
yet the people impoverished; a church pillaged, and a state not 
relieved; civil and military anarchy made the constitution of the 
kingdom; everything human and divine sacrificed to the idol of 
public credit, and national bankruptcy the consequence; and, to 
crown all, the paper securities of new, precarious, tottering power, 
the discredited paper securities of impoverished fraud and beggared 
rapine, held out as a currency for the support of an empire, in lieu 
of the two great recognised species that represent the lasting, con- 
ventional credit of mankind, which disappeared and hid themselves 
in the earth from whence they came, when the principle of property, 



178 EDMUND BURKE 

whose creatures and representatives they are, was systematically 
subverted. 

Were all these dreadful things necessary? Were they the inevitable 
results o the desperate struggle of determined patriots, compelled 
to wade through blood and tumult, to the quiet shore of a tranquil 
and prosperous liberty? No! nothing like it. The fresh ruins of 
France, which shock our feelings wherever we can turn our eyes, 
are not the devastation of civil war; they are the sad but instructive 
monuments of rash and ignorant counsel in time of profound peace. 
They are the display of inconsiderate and presumptuous, because 
unresisted and irresistible, authority. The persons who have thus 
squandered away the precious treasure of their crimes, the persons 
who have made this prodigal and wild waste of public evils, (the last 
stake reserved for the ultimate ransom of the state,) have met in 
their progress with little, or rather with no opposition at all. Their 
whole march was more like a triumphal procession, than the prog- 
ress of a war. Their pioneers have gone before them, and demolished 
and laid everything level at their feet. Not one drop of their blood 
have they shed in the cause of the country they have ruined. They 
have made no sacrifices to their projects of greater consequence than 
their shoe-buckles, whilst they were imprisoning their king, mur- 
dering their fellow-citizens, and bathing in tears, and plunging in 
poverty and distress, thousands of worthy men and worthy families. 
Their cruelty has not even been the base result of fear. It has been 
the effect of their sense of perfect safety, in authorizing treasons, 
robberies, rapes, assassinations, slaughters, and burnings, throughout 
their harassed land. But the cause of all was plain from the begin- 
ning. 

This unforced choice, this fond election of evil, would appear 
perfectly unaccountable, if we did not consider the composition of 
the National Assembly : I do not mean its formal constitution, which, 
as it now stands, is exceptionable enough, but the materials of which, 
in a great measure, it is composed, which is of ten thousand times 
greater consequence than all the formalities in the world. If we were 
to know nothing of this assembly but by its title and function, no 
colours could paint to the imagination anything more venerable. 
In that light the mind of an inquirer, subdued by such an awful 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 179 

image as that of the virtue and wisdom of a whole people collected 
into a focus, would pause and hesitate in condemning things even 
of the very worst aspect. Instead of blameable, they would appear 
only mysterious. But no name, no power, no function, no artificial 
institution whatsoever, can make the men of whom any system of 
authority is composed any other than God, and nature, and educa- 
tion, and their habits of life have made them. Capacities beyond 
these the people have not to give. Virtue and wisdom may be the 
objects of their choice; but their choice confers neither the one nor 
the other on those upon whom they lay their ordaining hands. They 
have not the engagement of nature, they have not the promise of 
revelation, for any such powers. 

After I had read over the list of the persons and descriptions 
elected into the Tiers Etat, nothing which they afterwards did could 
appear astonishing. Among them, indeed, I saw some of known 
rank; some of shining talents; but of any practical experience in the 
state, not one man was to be found. The best were only men of 
theory. But whatever the distinguished few may have been, it is 
the substance and mass of the body which constitutes its character, 
and must finally determine its direction. In all bodies, those who 
will lead, must also, in a considerable degree, follow. They must 
conform their propositions to the taste, talent, and disposition, of 
those whom they wish to conduct: therefore, if an assembly is 
viciously or feebly composed in a very great part of it, nothing but 
such a supreme degree of virtue as very rarely appears in the world, 
and for that reason cannot enter into calculation, will prevent the 
men of talent disseminated through it from becoming only the expert 
instruments of absurd projects! If, what is the more likely event, 
instead of that unusual degree of virtue, they should be actuated by 
sinister ambition, and a lust of meretricious glory, then the feeble 
part of the assembly, to whom at first they conform, becomes in its 
turn the dupe and instrument of their designs. In this political 
traffic, the leaders will be obliged to bow to the ignorance of their 
followers, and the followers to become subservient to the worst 
designs of their leaders. 

To secure any degree of sobriety in the propositions made by the 
leaders in any public assembly, they ought to respect, in some 



l8o EDMUND BURKE 

degree perhaps to fear, those whom they conduct. To be led any 
otherwise than blindly, the followers must be qualified, if not for 
actors, at least for judges; they must also be judges of natural weight 
and authority. Nothing can secure a steady and moderate conduct 
in such assemblies, but that the body of them should be respectably 
composed, in point of condition in life, or permanent property, of 
education, and of such habits as enlarge and liberalize the under- 
standing. 

In the calling of the states-general of France, the first thing that 
struck me, was a great departure from the ancient course. I found 
the representation for the third estate composed of six hundred per- 
sons. They were equal in number to the representatives of both the 
other orders. If the orders were to act separately, the number would 
not, beyond the consideration of the expense, be of much moment. 
But when it became apparent that the three orders were to be melted 
down into one, the policy and necessary effect of this numerous rep- 
resentation became obvious. A very small desertion from either of 
the other two orders must throw the power of both into the hands 
of the third. In fact, the whole power of the state was soon resolved 
into that body. Its due composition became therefore of infinitely 
the greater importance. 

Judge, Sir, of my surprise, when I found that a very great propor- 
tion of the assembly (a majority, I believe, of the members who 
attended) was composed of practitioners in the law. It was com- 
posed, not of distinguished magistrates, who had given pledges to 
their country of their science, prudence, and integrity; not of leading 
advocates, the glory of the bar; not of renowned professors in uni- 
versities; but for the far greater part, as it must in such a number, 
of the inferior, unlearned, mechanical, merely instrumental members 
of the profession. There were distinguished exceptions; but the gen- 
eral composition was of obscure provincial advocates, of stewards of 
petty local jurisdictions, country attornies, notaries, and the whole 
train of the ministers of municipal litigation, the fomenters and con- 
ductors of the petty war of village vexation. From the moment I 
read the list, I saw distinctly, and very nearly as it has happened, 
all that was to follow. 

The degree of estimation in which any profession is held becomes 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE l8l 

the standard of the estimation in which the professors hold them- 
selves. Whatever the personal merits of many individual lawyers 
might have been, and in many it was undoubtedly very considerable, 
in that military kingdom no part of the profession had been much 
regarded, except the highest of all, who often united to their pro- 
fessional offices great family splendour, and were invested with great 
power and authority. These certainly were highly respected, and 
even with no small degree of awe. The next rank was not much 
esteemed; the mechanical part was in a very low degree of repute. 
Whenever the supreme authority is vested in a body so com- 
posed, it must evidently produce the consequences of supreme au- 
thority placed in the hands of men not taught habitually to respect 
themselves; who had no previous fortune in character at stake; who 
could not be expected to bear with moderation, or to conduct with 
discretion, a power, which they themselves, more than any others, 
must be surprised to find in their hands. Who could flatter himself 
that these men, suddenly, and, as it were, by enchantment, snatched 
from the humblest rank of subordination, would not be intoxicated 
with their unprepared greatness? Who could conceive that men, 
who are habitually meddling, daring, subtle, active, of litigious dis- 
positions and unquiet minds, would easily fall back into their old 
condition of obscure contention, and laborious, low, and unprofitable 
chicane? Who could doubt but that, at any expense to the state, of 
which they understood nothing, they must pursue their private 
interests which they understood but too well? It was not an event 
depending on chance, or contingency. It was inevitable; it was neces- 
sary; it was planted in the nature of things. They must join (if their 
capacity did not permit them to lead) in any project which could 
procure to them a litigious constitution; which could lay open to 
them those innumerable lucrative jobs, which follow in the train 
of all great convulsions and revolutions in the state, and particularly 
in all great and violent permutations of property. Was it to be ex- 
pected that they would attend to the stability of property, whose 
existence had always depended upon whatever rendered property 
questionable, ambiguous, and insecure? Their objects would be 
enlarged with their elevation, but their disposition and habits, and 
mode of accomplishing their designs, must remain the same. 



1 82 EDMUND BURKE 

Well! but these men were to be tempered and restrained by other 
descriptions, of more sober and more enlarged understandings. 
Were they then to be awed by the super-eminent authority and awful 
dignity of a handful of country clowns, who have seats in that as- 
sembly, some of whom are said not to be able to read and write? 
and by not a greater number of traders, who, though somewhat more 
instructed, and more conspicuous in the order of society, had never 
known anything beyond their counting-house. No! both these 
descriptions were more formed to be overborne and swayed by the 
intrigues and artifices of lawyers, than to become their counterpoise. 
With such a dangerous disproportion, the whole must needs be gov- 
erned by them. To the faculty of law was joined a pretty consider- 
able proportion of the faculty of medicine. This faculty had not, any 
more than that of the law, possessed in France its just estimation. 
Its professors, therefore, must have the qualities of men not habitu- 
ated to sentiments of dignity. But supposing they had ranked as 
they ought to do, and as with us they do actually, the sides of sick 
beds are not the academies for forming statesmen and legislators. 
Then came the dealers in stocks and funds, who must be eager, at 
any expense, to change their ideal paper wealth for the more solid 
substance of land. To these were joined men of other descriptions, 
from whom as little knowledge of, or attention to, the interests of 
a great state was to be expected, and as little regard to the stability 
of any institution; men formed to be instruments, not controls. Such 
in general was the composition of the Tiers Etat in the National 
Assembly; in which was scarcely to be perceived the slightest traces 
of what we call the natural landed interest of the country. 

We know that the British House of Commons, without shutting 
its doors to any merit in any class, is, by the sure operation of ade- 
quate causes, filled with everything illustrious in rank, in descent, in 
hereditary and in acquired opulence, in cultivated talents, in military, 
civil, naval, and politic distinction, that the country can afford. But 
supposing, what hardly can be supposed as a case, that the House of 
Commons should be composed in the same manner with the Tiers 
Etat in France, would this dominion of chicane be borne with pa- 
tience, or even conceived without horror? God forbid I should 
insinuate anything derogatory to that profession, which is another 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 183 

priesthood, administrating the rights of sacred justice. But whilst I 
revere men in the functions which belong to them, and would do as 
much as one man can do to prevent their exclusion from any, I can- 
not, to flatter them, give the lie to nature. They are good and useful 
in the composition; they must be mischievous if they preponderate 
so as virtually to become the whole. Their very excellence in their 
peculiar functions may be far from a qualification for others. It 
cannot escape observation, that when men are too much confined 
to professional and faculty habits, and as it were inveterate in the 
recurrent employment of that narrow circle, they are rather disabled 
than qualified for whatever depends on the knowledge of mankind, 
on experience in mixed affairs, on a comprehensive, connected view 
of the various, complicated, external and internal interests, which go 
to the formation of that multifarious thing called a state. 

After all, if the House of Commons were to have a wholly pro- 
fessional and faculty composition, what is the power of the House of 
Commons, circumscribed and shut in by the immovable barriers of 
laws, usages, positive rules of doctrine and practice, counterpoised 
by the House of Lords, and every moment of its existence at the dis- 
cretion of the crown to continue, prorogue, or dissolve us? The 
power of the House of Commons, direct or indirect, is indeed great; 
and long may it be able to preserve its greatness, and the spirit be- 
longing to true greatness, at the full; and it will do so, as long as it 
can keep the breakers of law in India from becoming the makers 
of law for England. The power, however, of the House of Com- 
mons, when least diminished, is as a drop of water in the ocean, 
compared to that residing in a settled majority of your National 
Assembly. That assembly, since the destruction of the orders, has no 
fundamental law, no strict convention, no respected usage to restrain 
it. Instead of finding themselves obliged to conform to a fixed con- 
stitution, they have a power to make a constitution which shall con- 
form to their designs. Nothing in heaven or upon earth can serve 
as a control on them. What ought to be the heads, the hearts, the 
dispositions, that are qualified, or that dare, not only to make laws 
under a fixed constitution, but at one heat to strike out a totally new 
constitution for a great kingdom, and in every part of it, from the 
monarch on the throne to the vestry of a parish? But "fools rush 



184 EDMUND BURKE 

in where angels fear to tread." In such a state of unbounded power 
for undefined and undefmable purposes, the evil of a moral and 
almost physical inaptitude of the man to the function must be the 
greatest we can conceive to happen in the management of human 
affairs. 

Having considered the composition of the third estate as it stood 
in its original frame, I took a view of the representatives of the clergy. 
There too it appeared, that full as little regard was had to the general 
security of property, or to the aptitude of the deputies for the public 
purposes, in the principles of their election. That election was so 
contrived, as to send a very large proportion of mere country curates 
to the great and arduous work of new-modelling a state; men who 
never had seen the state so much as in a picture; men who knew 
nothing of the world beyond the bounds of an obscure village; who, 
immersed in hopeless poverty, could regard all property, whether 
secular or ecclesiastical, with no other eye than that of envy; among 
whom must be many who, for the smallest hope of the meanest divi- 
dend in plunder, would readily join in any attempts upon a body of 
wealth, in which they could hardly look to have any share, except in 
a general scramble. Instead of balancing the power of the active 
chicaners in the other assembly, these curates must necessarily be- 
come the active coadjutors, or at best the passive instruments, of 
those by whom they had been habitually guided in their petty village 
concerns. They too could hardly be the most conscientious of their 
kind, who presuming upon their incompetent understanding, could 
intrigue for a trust which led them from their natural relation to 
their flocks, and their natural spheres of action, to undertake the re- 
generation of kingdoms. This preponderating weight, being added 
to the force of the body of chicane in the Tiers Etat, completed that 
momentum of ignorance, rashness, presumption, and lust of plunder, 
which nothing has been able to resist. 

To observing men it must have appeared from the beginning, that 
the majority of the Third Estate, in conjunction with such a deputa- 
tion from the clergy as I have described, whilst it pursued the destruc- 
tion of the nobility, would inevitably become subservient to the 
worst designs of individuals in that class. In the spoil and humi 1: - 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 185 

ation of their own order these individuals would possess a sure fund 
for the pay of their new followers. To squander away the objects 
which made the happiness of their fellows, would be to them no 
sacrifice at all. Turbulent, discontented men of quality, in proportion 
as they are puffed up with personal pride and arrogance, generally 
despise their own order. One of the first symptoms they discover of 
a selfish and mischievous ambition, is a profligate disregard of a 
dignity which they partake with others. To be attached to the sub- 
division, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first 
principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first 
link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, 
and to mankind. The interest of that portion of social arrangement 
is a trust in the hands of all those who compose it; and as none but 
bad men would justify it in abuse, none but traitors would barter it 
away for their own personal advantage. 

There were in the time of our civil troubles in England (I do not 
know whether you have any such in your assembly in France) sev- 
eral persons, like the then Earl of Holland, who by themselves or 
their families had brought an odium on the throne, by the prodigal 
dispensation of its bounties towards them, who afterwards joined in 
the rebellions arising from the discontents of which they were them- 
selves the cause; men who helped to subvert that throne to which 
they owed, some of them, their existence, others all that power which 
they employed to ruin their benefactor. If any bounds are set to 
the rapacious demands of that sort of people, or that others are per- 
mitted to partake in the objects they would engross, revenge and envy 
soon fill up the craving void that is left in their avarice. Confounded 
by the complication of distempered passions, their reason is dis- 
turbed; their views become vast and perplexed; to others inex- 
plicable; to themselves uncertain. They find, on all sides, bounds to 
their unprincipled ambition in any fixed order of things. Both in 
the fog and haze of confusion all is enlarged, and appears without 
any limit. 

When men of rank sacrifice all ideas of dignity to an ambition 
without a distinct object, and work with low instruments and for 
low ends, the whole composition becomes low and base. Does not 



1 86 EDMUND BURKE 

something like this now appear in France? Does it not produce 
something ignoble and inglorious? a kind of meanness in all the 
prevalent policy ? a tendency in all that is done to lower along with 
individuals all the dignity and importance of the state? Other revo- 
lutions have been conducted by persons, who, whilst they attempted 
or affected changes in the commonwealth, sanctified their ambition 
by advancing the dignity of the people whose peace they troubled. 
They had long views. They aimed at the rule, not at the destruction, 
of their country. They were men of great civil, and great military 
talents, and if the terror, the ornament of their age. They were not 
like Jew brokers, contending with each other who could best remedy 
with fraudulent circulation and depreciated paper the wretchedness 
and ruin brought on their country by their degenerate councils. The 
compliment made to one of the great bad men of the old stamp 
(Cromwell) by his kinsman, a favourite poet of that time, shows 
what it was he proposed, and what indeed to a great degree he 
accomplished, in the success of his ambition: 

"Still as you rise, the state, exalted too, 
Finds no distemper whilst 'tis changed by you; 
Changed like the world's great scene, when without noise 
The rising sun night's vulgar lights destroys." 

These disturbers were not so much like men usurping power, 
as asserting their natural place in society. Their rising was to illu- 
minate and beautify the world. Their conquest over their competi- 
tors was by outshining them. The hand that, like a destroying angel, 
smote the country, communicated to it the force and energy under 
which it suffered. I do not say, (God forbid)-! do not say, that 
the virtues of such men were to be taken as a balance to their crimes; 
but they were some corrective to their effects. Such was, as I said, 
our Cromwell. Such were your whole race of Guises, Condes, and 
Colignis. Such the Richelieus, who in more quiet times acted in the 
spirit of a civil war. Such, as better men, and in a less dubious cause, 
were your Henry the Fourth and your Sully, though nursed in civil 
confusions, and not wholly without some of their taint. It is a thing 
to be wondered at, to see how very soon France, when she had a 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 187 

moment to respire, recovered and emerged from the longest and 
most dreadful civil war that ever was known in any nation. Why ? 
Because among all their massacres, they had not slain the mind in 
their country. A conscious dignity, a noble pride, a generous sense 
of glory and emulation, was not extinguished. On the contrary, it 
was kindled and inflamed. The organs also of the state, however 
shattered, existed. All the prizes of honour and virtue, all the 
rewards, all the distinctions remained. But your present confusion, 
like a palsy, has attacked the fountain of life itself. Every person 
in your country, in a situation to be actuated by a principle of hon- 
our, is disgraced and degraded, and can entertain no sensation of 
life, except in a mortified and humiliated indignation. But this gen- 
eration will quickly pass away. The next generation of the nobility 
will resemble the artificers and clowns, and money-jobbers, usurers, 
and Jews, who will be always their fellows, sometimes their 
masters. 

Believe me, Sir, those who attempt to level, never equalise. In all 
societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some descrip- 
tion must be uppermost. The levellers therefore only change and 
pervert the natural order of things; they load the edifice of society, 
by setting up in the air what the solidity of the structure requires to 
be on the ground. The association of tailors and carpenters, of which 
the republic (of Paris, for instance) is composed, cannot be equal to 
the situation, into which, by the worst of usurpations, an usurpation 
on the prerogatives of nature, you attempt to force them. 

The Chancellor of France at the opening of the states, said, in a 
tone of oratorical flourish, that all occupations were honourable. If 
he meant only, that no honest employment was disgraceful, he would 
not have gone beyond the truth. But in asserting that anything is 
honourable, we imply some distinction in its favour. The occupation 
of a hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler, cannot be a matter 
of honour to any person to say nothing of a number of other more 
servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer 
oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as 
they, either individually or collectively are permitted to rule. In this 



1 88 EDMUND BURKE 

you think you are combating prejudice, but you are at war with 



nature. 10 



I do not, my dear Sir, conceive you to be of that sophistical, cap- 
tious spirit, or of that uncandid dulness, as to require, for every 
general observation or sentiment, an explicit detail of the correc- 
tives and exceptions, which reason will presume to be included in all 
the general propositions which come from reasonable men. You do 
not imagine, that I wish to confine power, authority, and distinction 
to blood, and names, and titles. No, Sir. There is no qualification for 
government but virtue and wisdom, actual or presumptive. Wher- 
ever they are actually found, they have, in whatever state, condi- 
tion, profession, or trade, the passport of Heaven to human place and 
honour. Woe to the country which would madly and impiously 
reject the service of the talents and virtues, civil, military, or religious, 
that are given to grace and to serve it; and would condemn to ob- 
scurity everything formed to diffuse lustre and glory around a state! 
Woe to that country too, that, passing into the opposite extreme, 
considers a low education, a mean contracted view of things, a sordid, 
mercenary occupation, as a preferable title to command! Everything 
ought to be open; but not indifferently to every man. No rotation; 
no appointment by lot; no mode of election operating in the spirit 
of sortition, or rotation, can be generally good in a government con- 
versant in extensive objects. Because they have no tendency, direct or 
indirect, to select the man with a view to the duty, or to accommo- 
date the one to the other. I do not hesitate to say, that the road to 
eminence and power, from obscure condition, ought not to be made 
too easy, nor a thing too much of course. If rare merit be the rarest 

10 Ecclesiasticus, chap, xxxviii. verses 24, 25. "The wisdom of a learned man 
cometh by opportunity of leisure; and he that hath little business shall become 
wise." "How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the 
goad; that driveth oxen; and is occupied in their labours; and whose talk is of 
bullocks?" 

Ver. 27. "So every carpenter and work -master that laboureth night and day," &c. 

Ver. 33. "They shall not be sought for in public counsel, nor sit high in the 
congregation: They shall not sit on the judge's seat, nor understand the sentence 
of judgment; they cannot declare justice and judgment, and they shall not be found 
where parables are spoken." 

Ver. 34. "But they will maintain the state of the world." 

I do not determine whether this book be canonical, as the Gallican church (till 
lately) has considered it, or apocryphal, as here it is taken. I am sure it contains a 
great deal of sense and truth. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 189 

of all rare things, it ought to pass through some sort of probation. 
The temple of honour ought to be seated on an eminence. If it be 
opened through virtue, let it be remembered too, that virtue is never 
tried but by some difficulty and some struggle. 

Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a state, that does 
not represent its ability, as well as its property. But as ability is a 
vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and 
timid, it never can be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be, 
out of all proportion, predominant in the representation. It must be 
represented too in great masses of accumulation, or it is not rightly 
protected. The characteristic essence of property, formed out of the 
combined principles of its acquisition and conservation, is to be 
unequal. The great masses therefore which excite envy, and tempt 
rapacity, must be put out of the possibility of danger. Then they 
form a natural rampart about the lesser properties in all their grada- 
tions. The same quantity of property, which is by the natural 
course of things divided among many, has not the same operation. 
Its defensive power is weakened as it is diffused. In this diffusion 
each man's portion is less than what, in the eagerness of his desires, 
he may flatter himself to obtain by dissipating the accumulations of 
others. The plunder of the few would indeed give but a share incon- 
ceivably small in the distribution to the many. But the many are not 
capable of making this calculation; and those who lead them to 
rapine never intend this distribution. 

The power of perpetuating our property in our families is one 
of the most valuable and interesting circumstances belonging to it, 
and that which tends the most to the perpetuation of society itself. 
It makes our weakness subservient to our virtue; it grafts benevo- 
lence even upon avarice. The possessors of family wealth, and of 
the distinction which attends hereditary possession, (as most con- 
cerned in it) are the natural securities for this transmission. With 
us the House of Peers is formed upon this principle. It is wholly 
composed of hereditary property and hereditary distinction; and 
made therefore the third of the legislature; and, in the last event, 
the sole judge of all property in all its subdivisions. The House of 
Commons too, though not necessarily, yet in fact, is always so com- 
posed, in the far greater part. Let those large proprietors be what 



190 EDMUND BURKE 

they will, and they have their chance of being amongst the best, the} 
are, at the very worst, the ballast in the vessel of the commonwealth. 
For though hereditary wealth, and the rank which goes with it, 
are too much idolized by creeping sycophants, and the blind, abject 
admirers of power, they are too rashly slighted in shallow specula- 
tions of the petulant, assuming, short-sighted coxcombs of philoso- 
phy. Some decent, regulated pre-eminence, some preference (not 
exclusive appropriation) given to birth, is neither unnatural, nor 
unjust, nor impolitic. 

It is said, that twenty-four millions ought to prevail over two 
hundred thousand. True; if the constitution of a kingdom be a 
problem of arithmetic. This sort of discourse does well enough with 
the lamp-post for its second: to men who may reason calmly, it is 
ridiculous. The will of the many, and their interest, must very often 
differ; and great will be the difference when they make an evil 
choice. A government of five hundred country attornies and obscure 
curates is not good for twenty-four millions of men, though it were 
chosen by eight and forty millions; nor is it the better for being 
guided by a dozen of persons of quality, who have betrayed their 
trust in order to obtain that power. At present, you seem in every- 
thing to have strayed out of the high road of nature. The property 
of France does not govern it. Of course property is destroyed, and 
rational liberty has no existence. All you have got for the present is 
a paper circulation, and a stock-jobbing constitution: and, as to the 
future, do you seriously think that the territory of France, upon the 
republican system of eighty-three independent municipalities, (to 
say nothing of the parts that compose them) can ever be governed as 
one body, or can ever be set in motion by the impulse of one mind ? 
When the National Assembly has completed its work, it will have 
accomplished its ruin. These commonwealths will not long bear a 
state of subjection to the republic of Paris. They will not bear that 
this one body should monopolize the captivity of the king, and 
the dominion over the assembly calling itself National. Each will 
keep its own portion of the spoil of the church to itself; and it will 
not suffer either that spoil, or the more just fruits of their industry, 
or the natural produce of their soil, to be sent to swell the insolence, 
or pamper the luxury, of the mechanics of Paris. In this they will see 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 19 1 

none of the equality, under the pretence of which they have been 
tempted to throw off their allegiance to their sovereign, as well as 
the ancient constitution of their country. There can be no capital 
city in such a constitution as they have lately made. They have for- 
got, that when they framed democratic governments, they had vir- 
tually dismembered their country. The person, whom they persevere 
in calling king, has not power left to him by the hundredth part 
sufficient to hold together this collection of republics. The republic 
of Paris will endeavour indeed to complete the debauchery of the 
army, and illegally to perpetuate the assembly, without resort to its 
constituents, as the means of continuing its despotism. It will make 
efforts, by becoming the heart of a boundless paper circulation, to 
draw everything to itself; but in vain. All this policy in the end will 
appear as feeble as it is now violent. 

If this be your actual situation, compared to the situation to which 
you were called, as it were by the voice of God and man, I cannot 
find it in my heart to congratulate you on the choice you have made, 
or the success which has attended your endeavours. I can as little 
recommend to any other nation a conduct grounded on such prin- 
ciples, and productive of such effects. That I must leave to those who 
can see farther into your affairs than I am able to do, and who best 
know how far your actions are favourable to their designs. The 
gentlemen of the Revolution Society, who were so early in their con- 
gratulations, appear to be strongly of opinion that there is some 
scheme of politics relative to this country in which your proceedings 
may, in some way, be useful. For your Dr. Price, who seems to have 
speculated himself into no small degree of fervour upon this sub- 
ject, addresses his auditory in the following very remarkable words: 
"I cannot conclude without recalling particularly to your recollec- 
tion a consideration which I have more than once alluded to, and 
which probably your thoughts have been all along anticipating; a 
consideration with which my mind is impressed more than I can 
express. I mean the consideration of the favourableness of the pres- 
ent times to all exertions in the cause of liberty." 

It is plain that the mind of this political Preacher was at the time 
big with some extraordinary design; and it is very probable that the 



192 EDMUND BURKE 

thoughts of his audience, who understood him better than I do, did 
all along run before him in his reflection, and in the whole train of 
consequences to which it led. 

Before I read that sermon, I really thought I had lived in a free 
country; and it was an error I cherished, because it gave me a greater 
liking to the country I lived in. I was indeed, aware, that a jealous, 
ever-waking vigilance, to guard the treasure of our liberty, not only 
from invasion, but from decay and corruption, was our best wis- 
dom, and our first duty. However, I considered that treasure rather 
as a possession to be secured, than as a prize to be contended for. 
I did not discern how the present time came to be so very favourable 
to all exertions in the cause of freedom. The present time differs 
from any other only by the circumstance of what is doing in France. 
If the example of that nation is to have an influence on this, I can 
easily conceive why some of their proceedings which have an un- 
pleasant aspect, and are not quite reconcilable to humanity, gener- 
osity, good faith, and justice, are palliated with so much milky good- 
nature towards the actors, and borne with so much heroic fortitude 
towards the sufferers. It is certainly not prudent to discredit the 
authority of an example we mean to follow. But allowing this, we 
are led to a very natural question; What is that cause of liberty, 
and what are those exertions in its favour, to which the example of 
France is so singularly auspicious? Is our monarchy to be annihi- 
lated, with all the laws, all the tribunals, and all the ancient corpo- 
rations of the kingdom? Is every land-mark of the country to be 
done away in favour of a geometrical and arithmetical constitution ? 
Is the House of Lords to be voted useless? Is episcopacy to be abol- 
ished? Are the church lands to be sold to Jews and jobbers; or given 
to bribe new-invented municipal republics into a participation in 
sacrilege? Are all the taxes to be voted grievances, and the revenue 
reduced to a patriotic contribution, or patriotic presents? Are silver 
shoe-ibuckles to be substituted in the place of the land tax and the 
malt tax, for the support of the naval strength of this kingdom ? Are 
all orders, ranks, and distinctions to be confounded, that out of uni- 
versal anarchy, joined to national bankruptcy, three or four thousand 
democracies should be formed into eighty-three, and that they may 
all, by some sort of unknown attractive power, be organized into 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 193 

one ? For this great end is the army to be seduced from its discipline 
and its fidelity, first by every kind of debauchery, and then by the 
terrible precedent of a donative in the increase of pay? Are the 
curates to be seduced from their bishops, by holding out to them 
the delusive hope of a dole out of the spoils of their own order? 
Are the citizens of London to be drawn from their allegiance by feed- 
ing them at the expense of their fellow-subjects? Is a compulsory 
paper currency to be substituted in the place of the legal coin of this 
kingdom ? Is what remains of the plundered stock of public revenue 
to be employed in the wild project of maintaining two armies to 
watch over and to fight with each other? If these are the ends and 
means of the Revolution Society, I admit that they are well assorted; 
and France may furnish them for both with precedents in point. 

I see that your example is held out to shame us. I know that we 
are supposed a dull, sluggish race, rendered passive by finding our 
situation tolerable, and prevented by a mediocrity of freedom from 
ever attaining to its full perfection. Your leaders in France began by 
affecting to admire, almost to adore, the British constitution; but as 
they advanced, they came to look upon it with a sovereign contempt. 
The friends of your National Assembly amongst us have full as 
mean an opinion of what was formerly thought the glory of their 
country. The Revolution Society has discovered that the English 
nation is not free. They are convinced that the inequality in our 
representation is a "defect in our constitution so gross and palpable, 
as to make it excellent chiefly in form and theory. 11 " That a repre- 
sentation in the legislature of a kingdom is not only the basis of 
all constitutional liberty in it, but of "all legitimate government; that 
without it a government is nothing but an usurpation;" that "when 
the representation is partial, the kingdom possesses liberty only par- 
tially; and if extremely partial, it gives only a semblance; and if not 
only extremely partial, but corruptly chosen, it becomes a nuisance." 
Dr. Price considers this inadequacy of representation as our funda- 
mental grievance; and though, as to the corruption of this sem- 
blance of representation, he hopes it is not yet arrived to its full per- 
fection of depravity, he fears that "nothing will be done towards 
gaining for us this essential blessing, until some great abuse of power 
11 Discourse on the Love of our Country, 3rd edit. p. 39. 



194 EDMUND BURKE 

again provokes our resentment, or some great calamity again alarms 
our fears, or perhaps till the acquisition of a pure and equal represen- 
tation by other countries, whilst we are mocked with the shadow, 
kindles our shame." To this he subjoins a note in these words: "A 
representation chosen chiefly by the Treasury, and a jew thousands 
of the dregs of the people, who are generally paid for their votes." 

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists, who, 
when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the com- 
munity with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they 
pretend to make them the depositories of all power. It would re- 
quire a long discourse to point out to you the many fallacies that 
lurk in the generality and equivocal nature of the terms "inadequate 
representation." I shall only say here, in justice to that old-fashioned 
constitution, under which we have long prospered, that our repre- 
sentation has been found perfectly adequate to all the purposes for 
which a representation of the people can be desired or devised. I 
defy the enemies of our constitution to show the contrary. To detail 
the particulars in which it is found so well to promote its ends, would 
demand a treatise on our practical constitution. I state here the doc- 
trine of the Revolutionists, only that you and others may see what 
an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution of their 
country, and why they seem to think that some great abuse of power, 
or some great calamity, as giving a chance for the blessing of a 
constitution according to their ideas, would be much palliated to 
their feelings; you see why they are so much enamoured of your 
fair and equal representation, which being once obtained, the same 
effects might follow. You see they consider our House of Commons 
as only "a semblance," "a form," "a theory," "a shadow," "a mock- 
ery," perhaps "a nuisance." 

These gentlemen value themselves on being systematic; and not 
without reason. They must therefore look on this gross and palpable 
defect of representation, this fundamental grievance, (so they call 
it,) as a thing not only vicious in itself, but as rendering our whole 
government absolutely illegitimate, and not at all better than a down- 
right usurpation. Another revolution, to get rid of this illegitimate 
and usurped government, would of course be perfectly justifiable, 
if not absolutely necessary. Indeed their principle, if you observe it 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 195 

with any attention, goes much further than to an alteration in the 
election of the House of Commons; for, if popular representation, or 
choice, is necessary to the legitimacy of all government, the House 
of Lords is, at one stroke, bastardized and corrupted in blood. That 
House is no representative of the people at all, even in "semblance 
or in form." The case of the crown is altogether as bad. In vain the 
crown may endeavour to screen itself against these gentlemen by the 
authority of the establishment made on the Revolution. The Revo- 
lution which is resorted to for a title, on their system, wants a title 
itself. The Revolution is built, according to their theory, upon a basis 
not more solid than our present formalities, as it was made by a 
House of Lords, not representing any one but themselves; and by a 
House of Commons exactly such as the present, that is, as they term 
it, by a mere "shadow and mockery" of representation. 

Something they must destroy, or they seem to themselves to exist 
for no purpose. One set is for destroying the civil power through the 
ecclesiastical; another, for demolishing the ecclesiastic through the 
civil. They are aware that the worst consequences might happen to 
the public in accomplishing this double ruin of church and state; 
but they are so heated with their theories, that they give more than 
hints, that this ruin, with all the mischiefs that must lead to it and 
attend it, and which to themselves appear quite certain, would not be 
unacceptable to them, or very remote from their wishes. A man 
amongst them of great authority, and certainly of great talents, 
speaking of a supposed alliance between church and state says, "per- 
haps we must wait for the fall of the civil powers before this most 
unnatural alliance be broken. Calamitous no doubt will that time be. 
But what convulsion in the political world ought to be a subject of 
lamentation, if it be attended with so desirable an effect?" You see 
with what a steady eye these gentlemen are prepared to view the 
greatest calamities which can befall their country. 

It is no wonder therefore, that with these ideas of everything in 
their constitution and government at home, either in church or state, 
as illegitimate and usurped, or at best as a vain mockery, they look 
abroad with an eager and passionate enthusiasm. Whilst they are 
possessed by these notions, it is vain to talk to them of the practice 
of their ancestors, the fundamental laws of their country, the fixed 



196 EDMUND BURKE 

form of a constitution, whose merits are confirmed by the solid test 
of long experience, and an increasing public strength and national 
prosperity. They despise experience as the wisdom of unlettered 
men; and as for the rest, they have wrought under-ground a mine 
that will blow up, at one grand explosion, all examples of antiquity, 
all precedents, charters, and acts of parliament. They have "the rights 
of men." Against these there can be no prescription; against these no 
agreement is binding: these admit no temperament, and no com- 
promise: anything withheld from their full demand is so much of 
fraud and injustice. Against these their rights of men let no gov- 
ernment look for security in the length of its continuance, or in the 
justice and lenity of its administration. The objections of these specu- 
latists, if its forms do not quadrate with their theories, are as valid 
against such an old and beneficent government, as against the most 
violent tyranny, or the greenest usurpation. They are always at issue 
with governments, not on a question of abuse, but a question of com- 
petency, and a question of title. I have nothing to say to the clumsy 
subtilty of their political metaphysics. Let them be their amusement 
in the schools. "Ilia se jactat in aula JEolus, et clauso ventorum 
carcere regnet" But let them not break prison to burst like a 
Levanter, to sweep the earth with their hurricane, and to break up 
the fountains of the great deep to overwhelm us. 

Far am I from denying in theory, full as far is my heart from 
withholding in practice, (if I were of power to give or to withhold,) 
the real rights of men. In denying their false claims of right, I 
do not mean to injure those which are real, and are such as their pre- 
tended rights would totally destroy. If civil society be made for the 
advantage of man, all the advantages for which it is made become his 
right. It is an institution of beneficence; and law itself is only benefi- 
cence acting by a rule. Men have a right to live by that rule; they 
have a right to do justice, as between their fellows, whether their 
fellows are in public function or in ordinary occupation. They have 
a right to the fruits of their industry; and to the means of making 
their industry fruitful. They have a right to the acquisitions of 
their parents; to the nourishment and improvement of their off- 
spring; to instruction in life, and to consolation in death. Whatever 
each man can separately do, without trespassing upon others, he 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 197 

has a right to do for himself; and he has a right to a fair portion 
of all which society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can 
do in his favour. In this partnership all men have equal rights; but 
not to equal things. He that has but five shillings in the partner- 
ship, has as good a right to it, as he that has five hundred pounds 
has to his larger proportion. But he has not a right to an equal 
dividend in the product of the joint stock; and as to the share of 
power, authority, and direction which each individual ought to have 
in the management of the state, that I must deny to be amongst 
the direct original rights of man in civil society; for I have in my 
contemplation the civil social man, and no other. It is a thing to be 
settled by convention. 

If civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must 
be its law. That convention must limit and modify all the descrip- 
tions of constitution which are formed under it. Every sort of legis- 
lative, judicial, or executory power are its creatures. They can 
have no being in any other state of things; and how can any man 
claim under the conventions of civil society, rights which do not so 
much as suppose its existence ? rights which are absolutely repugnant 
to it? One of the first motives to civil society, and which becomes 
one of its fundamental rules, is, that no man should be judge in his 
own cause. By this each person has at once divested himself of the 
first fundamental right of uncovenanted man, that is, to judge for 
himself, and to assert his own cause. He abdicates all right to be his 
own governor. He inclusively, in a great measure, abandons the 
right of self-defence, the first law of nature. Men cannot enjoy the 
rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. That he may obtain 
justice, he gives up his right of determining what it is in points the 
most essential to him. That he may secure some liberty, he makes 
a surrender in trust of the whole of it. 

Government is not made in virtue of natural rights, which may 
and do exist in total independence of it; and exist in much greater 
clearness, and in a much greater degree of abstract perfection: but 
their abstract perfection is their practical defect. By having a right to 
everything they want everything. Government is a contrivance of 
human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that 
these wants should be provided for by this wisdom. Among these 



Ip EDMUND BURKE 

wants is to be reckoned the want, out of civil society, of a sufficient 
restraint upon their passions. Society requires not only that the 
passions of individuals should be subjected, but that even in the 
mass and body, as well as in the individuals, the inclinations of men 
should frequently be thwarted, their will controlled, and their pas- 
sions brought into subjection. This can only be done by a power out 
of themselves; and not, in the exercise of its function, subject to that 
will and to those passions which it is its office to bridle and subdue. 
In this sense the restraints on men, as well as their liberties, are to 
be reckoned among their rights. But as the liberties and the restric- 
tions vary with times and circumstances, and admit of infinite modi- 
fications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule; and nothing 
is so foolish as to discuss them upon that principle. 

The moment you abate anything from the full rights of men, each 
to govern himself, and suffer any artificial, positive limitation upon 
those rights, from that moment the whole organization of govern- 
ment becomes a consideration of convenience. This it is which 
makes the constitution of a state, and the due distribution of its 
powers, a matter of the most delicate and complicated skill. It re- 
quires a deep knowledge of human nature and human necessities, 
and of the things which facilitate or obstruct the various ends, which 
are to be pursued by the mechanism of civil institutions. The state 
is to have recruits to its strength, and remedies to its distempers. 
What is the use of discussing a man's abstract right to food or medi- 
cine ? The question is upon the method of procuring and administer- 
ing them. In that deliberation I shall always advise to call in the aid 
of the farmer and the physician, rather than the professor of meta- 
physics. 

The science of constructing a commonwealth, or renovating it, or 
reforming it, is, like every other experimental science, not to be 
taught a priori. Nor is it a short experience that can instruct us in 
that practical science : because the real effects of moral causes are not 
always immediate; but that which in the first instance is prejudicial 
may be excellent in its remoter operation; and its excellence may 
arise even from the ill effects it produces in the beginning. The re- 
verse also happens: and very plausible schemes, with very pleasing 
commencements, have often shameful and lamentable conclusions. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 199 

In states there are often some obscure and almost latent causes, things 
which appear at first view of little moment, on which a very great 
part of its prosperity or adversity may most essentially depend. The 
science of government being therefore so practical in itself, and in- 
tended for such practical purposes, a matter which requires experi- 
ence, and even more experience than any person can gain in his 
whole life, however sagacious and observing he may be, it is with 
infinite caution that any man ought to venture upon pulling down 
an edifice, which has answered in any tolerable degree for ages the 
common purposes of society, or on building it up again, without 
having models and patterns of approved utility before his eyes. 

These metaphysic rights entering into common life, like rays of 
light which pierce into a dense medium, are, by the laws of nature, 
refracted from their straight line. Indeed in the gross and compli- 
cated mass of human passions and concerns, the primitive rights of 
men undergo such a variety of refractions and reflections, that it 
becomes absurd to talk of them as if they continued in the simplicity 
of their original direction. The nature of man is intricate; the objects 
of society are of the greatest possible complexity: and therefore no 
simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to 
man's nature, or to the quality of his affairs. When I hear the 
simplicity of contrivance aimed at and boasted of in any new political 
constitutions, I am at no loss to decide that the artificers are grossly 
ignorant of their trade, or totally negligent of their duty. The simple 
governments are fundamentally defective, to say no worse of them. 
If you were to contemplate society in but one point of view, all these 
simple modes of polity are infinitely captivating. In effect each 
would answer its single end much more perfectly than the more com- 
plex is able to attain all its complex purposes. But it is better that 
the whole should be imperfectly and anomalously answered, than 
that, while some parts are provided for with great exactness, others 
might be totally neglected, or perhaps materially injured, by the over- 
care of a favourite member. 

The pretended rights of these theorists are all extremes: and in 
proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and 
politically false. The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable 
of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The eights of men 



20O EDMUND BURKE 

in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balances 
between differences o good; in compromises sometimes between 
good and evil, and sometimes between evil and evil. Political reason 
is a computing principle; adding, subtracting, multiplying, and divid- 
ing, morally and not metaphysically, or mathematically, true moral 
denominations. 

By these theorists the right of the people is almost always sophisti- 
cally confounded with their power. The body of the community, 
whenever it can come to act, can meet with no effectual resistance; 
but till power and right are the same, the whole body of them has no 
right inconsistent with virtue, and the first of all virtues, prudence. 
Men have no right to what is not reasonable, and to what is not for 
their benefit; for though a pleasant writer said, Lie eat perire poetis, 
when one of them, in cold blood, is said to have leaped into the 
flames of a volcanic revolution, Ardentem jrigidus JEtnam insiluit, 
I consider such a frolic rather as an unjustifiable poetic license, than 
as one of the franchises of Parnassus; and whether he was a poet, or 
divine, or politician, that chose to exercise this kind of right, I think 
that more wise, because more charitable, thoughts would urge me 
rather to save the man than to preserve his brazen slippers as the 
monuments of his folly. 

The kind of anniversary sermons to which a great part of what I 
write refers, if men are not shamed out of their present course, in 
commemorating the fact, will cheat many out of the principles, and 
deprive them of the benefits, of the revolution they commemorate. 
I confess to you, Sir, I never liked this continual talk of resistance, 
and revolution, or the practice of making the extreme medicine of 
the constitution its daily bread. It renders the habit of society dan- 
gerously valetudinary: it is taking periodical doses of mercury 
sublimate, and swallowing down repeated provocatives of canthar- 
ides to our love of liberty. 

This distemper of remedy, grown habitual, relaxes and wears out, 
by a vulgar and prostituted use, the spring of that spirit which is to 
be exerted on great occasions. It was in the most patient period of 
Roman servitude that themes of tyrannicide made the ordinary ex- 
ercise of boys at school cum perimit scevos classis numerosa tyran- 
nos. In the ordinary state of things, it produces in a country like 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 2OI 

ours the worst effects, even on the cause of that liberty which it 
abuses with the dissoluteness of an extravagant speculation. Almost 
all the high-bred republicans of my time have, after a short space, 
become the most decided, thorough-paced courtiers; they soon left 
the business of a tedious, moderate, but practical resistance, to those 
of us whom, in the pride and intoxication of their theories, they have 
slighted as not much better than Tories. Hypocrisy, of course, de- 
lights in the most sublime speculations; for, never intending to go 
beyond speculation, it costs nothing to have it magnificent. But 
even in cases where rather levity than fraud was to be suspected in 
these ranting speculations, the issue has been much the same. These 
professors, finding their extreme principles not applicable to cases 
which call only for a qualified, or, as I may say, civil and legal resis- 
tance, in such cases employ no resistance at all. It is with them a war 
or a revolution, or it is nothing. Finding their schemes of politics 
not adapted to the state of the world in which they live, they often 
come to think lightly of all public principle; and are ready, on their 
part, to abandon for a very trivial interest what they find of very 
trivial value. Some indeed are of more steady and persevering na- 
tures; but these are eager politicians out of parliament, who have 
little to tempt them to abandon their favourite projects. They have 
some change in the church or state, or both, constantly in their view. 
When that is the case, they are always bad citizens, and perfectly 
unsure connexions. For, considering their speculative designs as of 
infinite value, and the actual arrangement of the state as of no esti- 
mation, they are at best indifferent about it. They see no merit in 
the good, and no fault in the vicious, management of public affairs; 
they rather rejoice in the latter, as more propitious to revolution. 
They see no merit or demerit in any man, or any action, or any 
political principle, any further than as they may forward or retard 
their design of change: they therefore take up, one day, the most 
violent and stretched prerogative, and another time the wildest 
democratic ideas of freedom, and pass from one to the other without 
any sort or regard to cause, to person, or to party. 

In France you are now in the crisis of a revolution, and in the 
transit from one form of government to another you cannot see 
that character of men exactly in the same situation in which we see 



202 EDMUND BURKE 

it in this country. With us it is militant; with you it is triumphant; 
and you know how it can act when its power is commensurate to its 
will. I would not be supposed to confine those observations to any 
description o men, or to comprehend all men of any description 
within them No! far from it. I am as incapable of that injustice, 
as I am of keeping terms with those who profess principles of ex- 
tremities; and who, under the name of religion, teach little else than 
wild and dangerous politics. The worst of these politics of revolution 
is this: they temper and harden the breast, in order to prepare it for 
the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions. 
But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratu- 
itous taint; and the moral sentiments sufTer not a little, when no 
political purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are 
so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they 
have totally forgotten his nature. Without opening one new avenue 
to the understanding, they have succeeded in stopping up those that 
lead to the heart. They have perverted in themselves, and in those 
that attend to them, all the well-placed sympathies of the human 
breast. 

This famous sermon of the Old Jewry breathes nothing but this 
spirit through all the political part. Plots, massacres, assassinations, 
seem to some people a trivial price for obtaining a revolution. Cheap, 
bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty, appear flat and vapid to 
their taste. There must be a great change of scene; there must be a 
magnificent stage effect; there must be a grand spectacle to rouse 
the imagination, grown torpid with the lazy enjoyment of sixty 
years' security and the still unanimating repose of public prosperity. 
The preacher found them all in the French Revolution. This in- 
spires a juvenile warmth through his whole frame. His enthusi- 
asm kindles as he advances; and when he arrives at his peroration 
it is in a full blaze. Then viewing, from the Pisgah of his pulpit, the 
free, moral, happy, flourishing and glorious state of France, as in a 
bird's-eye landscape of a promised land, he breaks out into the fol- 
lowing rapture: 

"What an eventful period is this! I am thankful that I have lived 
to it; I could almost say, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart 
in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation. I have lived to see 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 2O3 

a diffusion of knowledge, which has undermined superstition and 
error. I have lived to see the rights of men better understood than 
ever; and nations panting for liberty which seemed to have lost the 
idea of it. I have lived to see Thirty Millions of People, indignant 
and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an 
irresistible voice. Their %ing led in triumph and an arbitrary mon- 
arch surrendering himself to his subjects. 12 " 

Before I proceed further, I have to remark, that Dr. Price seems 
rather to overvalue the great acquisitions of light which he has ob- 
tained and diffused in this age. The last century appears to me to 
have been quite as much enlightened. It had, though in a different 
place, a triumph as memorable as that of Dr. Price; and some of the 
great preachers of that period partook of it as eagerly as he has done 
in the triumph of France. On the trial of the Rev. Hugh Peters for 
high treason, it was deposed, that when King Charles was brought 
to London for his trial, the Apostle of Liberty in that day conducted 
the triumph. "I saw," says the witness, "his Majesty in the coach 
with six horses, and Peters riding before the king, triumphing." Dr. 
Price, when he talks as if he had made a discovery, only follows a 
precedent; for, after the commencement of the king's trial, this 
precursor, the same Dr. Peters, concluding a long prayer at the 
Royal Chapel at Whitehall, (he had very triumphantly chosen his 
place) said, "I have prayed and preached these twenty years; and now 
I may say with old Simeon, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart 
in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation" Peters had not 
the fruits of his prayer; for he neither departed so soon as he wished, 
nor in peace. He became (what I heartily hope none of his followers 
may be in this country) himself a sacrifice to the triumph which he 
led as pontiff. 

They dealt at the Restoration, perhaps, too hardly with this poor 
good man. But we owe it to his memory and his sufferings, that he 
had as much illumination, and as much zeal, and had as effectually 

12 Another of these reverend gentlemen, who was witness to some of the spectacles 
which Paris has lately exhibited, expresses himself thus: "A %ing dragged in sub- 
missive triumph by his conquering subjects, is one of those appearances of grandeur 
which seldom rise in the prospect of human affairs, and which, during the remainder 
of my life, I shall think of with wonder and gratification." These gentlemen agree 
marvellously in their feelings. 13 State Trials, vol. ii. p. 360, p. 363. 



204 EDMUND BURKE 

undermined all the superstition and error which might impede the 
great business he was engaged in, as any who follow and repeat 
after him, in this age, which would assume to itself an exclusive title 
to the knowledge of the rights of men, and all the glorious conse- 
quences of that knowledge. 

After this sally of the preacher of the Old Jewry, which differs 
only in place and time, but agrees perfectly with the spirit and let- 
ter of the rapture of 1648, the Revolution Society, the fabricators of 
governments, the heroic band of cashierers of monarchs, electors of 
sovereigns, and leaders of kings in triumph, strutting with a proud 
consciousness of the diffusion of knowledge, of which every mem- 
ber had obtained so large a share in the donative, were in haste to 
make a general diffusion of the knowledge they had thus gratui- 
tously received. To make this bountiful communication, they ad- 
journed from the church in the Old Jewry to the London Tavern; 
where the same Dr. Price, in whom the fumes of his oracular tripod 
were not entirely evaporated, moved and carried the resolution, or 
address of congratulation transmitted by Lord Stanhope to the Na- 
tional Assembly of France. 

I find a preacher of the gospel profaning the beautiful and pro- 
phetic ejaculation, commonly called "nunc dimittis," made on the 
first presentation of our Saviour in the Temple, and applying it, with 
an inhuman and unnatural rapture, to the most horrid, atrocious, 
and afflicting spectacle that perhaps ever was exhibited to the pity and 
indignation of mankind. This "leading in triumph," a thing in its 
best form unmanly and irreligious, which fills our preacher with 
such unhallowed transports, must shock, I believe, the moral taste 
of every well-born mind. Several English were the stupefied and 
indignant spectators of that triumph. It was (unless we have been 
strangely deceived) a spectacle more resembling a procession of 
American savages, entering into Onondaga, after some of their mur- 
ders called victories, and leading into hovels hung round with scalps, 
their captives, overpowered with the scoffs and buffets of women as 
ferocious as themselves, much more than it resembled the triumphal 
pomp of a civilized, martial nation if a civilized nation, or any men 
who had a sense of generosity, were capable of a personal triumph 
over the fallen and afflicted. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 205 

This, my dear Sir, was not the triumph of France. I must believe 
that, as a nation, it overwhelmed you with shame and horror. I must 
believe that the National Assembly find themselves in a state of the 
greatest humiliation in not being able to punish the authors of this 
triumph, or the actors in it; and that they are in a situation in which 
any inquiry they may make upon the subject must be destitute even 
of the appearance of liberty or impartiality. The apology of that 
assembly is found in their situation; but when we approve what they 
must bear, it is in us the degenerate choice of a vitiated mind. 

With a compelled appearance of deliberation, they vote under the 
dominion of a stern necessity. They sit in the heart, as it were, of a 
foreign republic: they have their residence in a city whose constitu- 
tion has emanated neither from the charter of their king, nor from 
their legislative power. There they are surrounded by an army not 
raised either by the authority of their crown, or by their command; 
and which, if they should order to dissolve itself, would instantly 
dissolve them. There they sit, after a gang of assassins had driven 
away some hundreds of the members; whilst those who held the 
same moderate principles, with more patience or better hope, con- 
tinued every day exposed to outrageous insults and murderous 
threats. There a majority, sometimes real, sometimes pretended, cap- 
tive itself, compels a captive king to issue as royal edicts, at third 
hand, the polluted nonsense of their most licentious and giddy coffee- 
houses. It is notorious, that all their measures are decided before 
they are debated. It is beyond doubt, that under the terror of the 
bayonet, and the lamp-post, and the torch to their houses, they are 
obliged to adopt all the crude and desperate measures suggested by 
clubs composed of a monstrous medley of all conditions, tongues, and 
nations. Among these are found persons, in comparison of whom 
Catiline would be thought scrupulous, and Cethegus a man of 
sobriety and moderation. Nor is it in these clubs alone that the pub- 
lic measures are deformed into monsters. They undergo a previous 
distortion in academies, intended as so many seminaries for these 
clubs, which are set up in all the places of public resort. In these 
meetings of all sorts, every counsel, in proportion as it is daring, and 
violent, and perfidious, is taken for the mark of superior genius. 
Humanity and compassion are ridiculed as the fruits of superstition 



206 EDMUND BURKE 

and ignorance. Tenderness to individuals is considered as treason 
to the public. Liberty is always to be estimated perfect as property 
is rendered insecure. Amidst assassination, massacre, and confisca- 
tion, perpetrated or meditated, they are forming plans for the good 
order of future society. Embracing in their arms the carcases of base 
criminals, and promoting their relations on the title of their offences, 
they drive hundreds of virtuous persons to the same end, by forcing 
them to subsist by beggary or by crime. 

The assembly, their organ, acts before them the farce of delibera- 
tion with as little decency as liberty. They act like the comedians of 
a fair before a riotous audience; they act amidst the tumultuous cries 
of a mixed mob of ferocious men, and of women lost to shame, who, 
according to their insolent fancies, direct, control, applaud, explode 
them; and sometimes mix and take their seats amongst them; 
domineering over them with a strange mixture of servile petulance 
and proud, presumptuous authority. As they have inverted order in 
all things, the gallery is in the place of the house. This assembly, 
which overthrows kings and kingdoms, has not even the physi- 
ognomy and aspect of a grave legislative body nee color imperil, 
nee frons ulla senatus. They have a power given to them, like that 
of the evil principle, to subvert and destroy; but none to construct, 
except such machines as may be fitted for further subversion and 
further destruction. 

Who is it that admires, and from the heart is attached to, national 
representative assemblies, but must turn with horror and disgust 
from such a profane burlesque, and abominable perversion of that 
sacred institute? Lovers of monarchy, lovers of republics, must 
alike abhor it. The members of your assembly must themselves 
groan under the tyranny of which they have all the shame, none of 
the direction, and little of the profit. I am sure many of the members 
who compose even the majority of that body must feel as I do, not- 
withstanding the applauses of the Revolution Society. Miserable 
king! miserable assembly! How must that assembly be silently scan- 
dalized with those of their members, who could call a day which 
seemed to blot the sun out of heaven, "nn beau jour! 14 " How must 
they be inwardly indignant at hearing others, who thought fit to 

14 6th of October, 1789. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

declare to them, "that the vessel of the state would fly forward in 
her course towards regeneration with more speed than ever," from 
the stiff gale of treason and murder, which preceded our preacher's 
triumph! What must they have felt, whilst, with outward patience, 
and inward indignation, they heard of the slaughter of innocent 
gentlemen in their houses, that "the blood spilled was not the most 
pure!" What must they have felt, when they were besieged by com- 
plaints of disorders which shook their country to its foundations, at 
being compelled coolly to tell the complainants, that they were 
under the protection of the law, and that they would address the 
king (the captive king) to cause the laws to be enforced for their 
protection; when the enslaved ministers of that captive king had 
formally notified to them, that there were neither law, nor authority, 
nor power left to protect! What must they have felt at being obliged, 
as a felicitation on the present new year, to request their captive 
king to forget the stormy period of the last, on account of the great 
good which he was likely to produce to his people; to the complete 
attainment of which good they adjourned the practical demonstra- 
tions of their loyalty, assuring him of their obedience, when he 
should no longer possess any authority to command! 

This address was made with much good nature and affection, to 
be sure. But among the revolutions in France must be reckoned a 
considerable revolution in their ideas of politeness. In England we 
are said to learn manners at second-hand from your side of the water, 
and that we dress our behaviour in the frippery of France. If so, we 
are still in the old cut; and have not so far conformed to the new 
Parisian mode of good breeding, as to think it quite in the most re- 
fined strain of delicate compliment (whether in condolence or 
congratulation) to say, to the most humiliated creature that crawls 
upon the earth, that great public benefits are derived from the mur- 
der of his servants, the attempted assassination of himself and of his 
wife, and the mortification, disgrace, and degradation, that he has 
personally suffered. It is a topic of consolation which our ordinary 
of Newgate would be too humane to use to a criminal at the foot 
of the gallows. I should have thought that the hangman of Paris, 
now that he is liberalized by the vote of the National Assembly, and 
is allowed his rank and arms in the herald's college of the rights of 



208 EDMUND BURKE 

men, would be too generous, too gallant a man, too full of the sense 
of his new dignity, to employ that cutting consolation to any of the 
persons whom the leze nation might bring under the administra- 
tion of his executive powers. 

A man is fallen indeed, when he is thus flattered. The anodyne 
draught of oblivion, thus drugged, is well calculated to preserve a 
galling wakef ulness, and to feed the living ulcer of a corroding mem- 
ory. Thus to administer the opiate potion of amnesty, powdered 
with all the ingredients of scorn and contempt, is to hold to his lips, 
instead of "the balm of hurt minds," the cup of human misery full 
to the brim, and to force him to drink it to the dregs. 

Yielding to reasons, at least as forcible as those which were so 
delicately urged in the compliment on the new year, the king of 
France will probably endeavour to forget these events and that com- 
pliment. But history, who keeps a durable record of all our acts, 
and exercises her awful censure over the proceedings of all sorts of 
sovereigns, will not forget either those events, or the era of this 
liberal refinement in the intercourse of mankind. History will re- 
cord, that on the morning of the 6th of October, 1789, the king and 
queen of France, after a day of confusion, alarm, dismay, and 
slaughter, lay down, under the pledged security of public faith, to 
indulge nature in a few hours of respite, and troubled, melancholy 
repose. From this sleep the queen was first startled by the voice of 
the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her to save herself by 
flight that this was the last proof of fidelity he could give that they 
were upon him, and he was dead. Instantly he was cut down. A 
band of cruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his blood, rushed 
into the chamber of the queen, and pierced with a hundred strokes 
of bayonets and poniards the bed, from whence this persecuted 
woman had but just time to fly almost naked, and, through ways 
unknown to the murderers, had escaped to seek refuge at the feet 
of a king and husband, not secure of his own life for a moment. 

This king, to say no more of him, and this queen, and their infant 
children, (who once would have been the pride and hope of a great 
and generous people,) were then forced to abandon the sanctuary 
of the most splendid palace in the world, which they left swimming 
in blood, polluted by massacre, and strewed with scattered limbs and 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 2O9 

mutilated carcases. Thence they were conducted into the capital of 
their kingdom. 

Two had been selected from the unprovoked, unresisted, promis- 
cuous slaughter, which was made of the gentlemen of birth and 
family who composed the king's body guard. These two gentlemen, 
with all the parade of an execution of justice, were cruelly and pub- 
licly dragged to the block, and beheaded in the great court of the 
palace. Their heads were stuck upon spears, and led the procession; 
whilst the royal captives who followed in the train were slowly 
moved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling screams, and 
frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the unutterable 
abominations of the furies of hell, in the abused shape of the vilest 
of women. 

After they had been made to taste, drop by drop, more than the 
bitterness of death, in the slow torture of a journey of twelve miles, 
protracted to six hours, they were, under a guard, composed of those 
very soldiers who had thus conducted them through this famous 
triumph, lodged in one of the old palaces of Paris, now converted 
into a bastile for kings. 

Is this a triumph to be consecrated at altars? to be commemo- 
rated with grateful thanksgiving ? to be offered to the divine human- 
ity with fervent prayer and enthusiastic ejaculation? These Theban 
and Thracian orgies, acted in France, and applauded only in the 
Old Jewry, I assure you, kindle prophetic enthusiasm in the minds 
but of very few people in this kingdom: although a saint and apostle, 
who may have revelations of his own, and who has so completely 
vanquished all the mean superstitions of the heart, may incline to 
think it pious and decorous to compare it with the entrance into 
the world of the Prince of Peace, proclaimed in a holy temple by a 
venerable sage, and not long before not worse announced by the 
voice of angels to the quiet innocence of shepherds. 

At first I was at a loss to account for this fit of unguarded trans- 
port. I knew, indeed, that the sufferings of monarchs make a deli- 
cious repast to some sort of palates. There were reflections which 
might serve to keep this appetite within some bounds of temper- 
ance. But when I took one circumstance into my consideration, I 
was obliged to confess, that much allowance ought to be made for 



2IO EDMUND BURKE 

the society, and that the temptation was too strong for common dis- 
cretion; I mean, the circumstance of the lo Pcean of the triumph, the 
animating cry which called "for all the BISHOPS to be hanged on 
the lamp-posts, 15 " might well have brought forth a burst of enthusi- 
asm on the foreseen consequences of this happy day. I allow to so 
much enthusiasm some little deviation from prudence. I allow this 
prophet to break forth into hymns of joy and thanksgiving on an 
event which appears like the precursor of the Millenium, and the pro- 
jected fifth monarchy, in the destruction of all church establishments. 
There was, however, (as in all human affairs there is) in the midst 
of this joy, something to exercise the patience of these worthy gentle- 
men, and to try the long-suffering of their faith. The actual murder 
of the king and queen, and their child, was wanting to the other 
auspicious circumstances of this "beautiful day." The actual murder 
of the bishops, though called for by so many holy ejaculations, was 
also wanting. A group of regicide and sacrilegious slaughter, was 
indeed boldly sketched, but it was only sketched. It unhappily was 
left unfinished, in this great history-piece of the massacre of inno- 
cents. What hardy pencil of a great master, from the school of the 
rights of men, will finish it, is to be seen hereafter. The age has not 
yet the complete benefit of that diffusion of knowledge that has 
undermined superstition and error; and the king of France wants 
another object or two to consign to oblivion, in consideration of all 
the good which is to arise from his own sufferings, and the patriotic 
crimes of an enlightened age. 16 

15 Tous les Eveques a la lanterne. 

16 It is proper here to refer to a letter written upon this subject Ly an eye-witness. 
That eye-witness was one of the most honest, intelligent, and eloquent members of 
the National Assembly, one of the most active and zealous reformers of the state. 
He was obliged to secede from the assembly; and he afterwards became a voluntary 
exile, on account of the horrors of this pious triumph, and the dispositions of men, 
who, profiting of crimes, if not causing them, have taken the lead in public affairs. 

Extract of M. de Lally Tollendal's Second Letter to a Friend 

"Parlons du parti que j'ai pris; il est bien justifie dans ma conscience. Ni cette 
ville coupable, ni cette assemblee plus coupable encore, ne meritoient que je me 
justifie; mais j'ai a cceur que vous, et les personnes qui pensent comme vous, ne me 
condamnent pas. Ma sant^, je vous jure, me rendoit mes fonctions impossibles; mais 
meme en les mettant de cote" il a etc au-dessus de mes forces de supporter plus long- 
terns 1'horreur que me causoit ce sang, ces tetes cette reine presque egorgee,ce roi, 
amen sclave, entranta Paris, au milieu de ses assassins, et precede" des tetes de 
ses malheureux grades ces perfides janissaires, ces assassins, ces femmes cannibales, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 211 

Although this work of our new light and knowledge did not go 
to the length that in all probability it was intended it should be 
carried, yet I must think that such treatment of any human creatures 
must be shocking to any but those who are made for accomplishing 
revolutions. But I cannot stop here. Influenced by the inborn feel- 
ings of my nature, and not being illuminated by a single ray of this 
new-sprung modern light, I confess to you, Sir, that the exalted rank 
of the persons suffering, and particularly the sex, the beauty, and 
the amiable qualities of the descendant of so many kings and emper- 
ors, with the tender age of royal infants, insensible only through 
infancy and innocence of the cruel outrages to which their parents 
were exposed, instead of being a subject of exultation, adds not a 
little to my sensibility on that most melancholy occasion. 

I hear that the august person, who was the principal object of our 
preacher's triumph, though he supported himself, felt much on that 

ce cri de TOUS LES EVEQUES A LA LANTERNE, dans le moment ou le roi entre sa capitale 
avec deux eveques de son conseil dans sa voiture un coup de fusil, que j'ai vu tirer 
dans un des caresses de la reine. M. Bailly appellant cela un beau jour, 1'assemblee 
ayant de"clar froidement le matin, qu'il n'etoit pas de sa dignit d'aller toute entiere 
environner le roi M. Mirabeau disant impunement dans cette assemblee que le 
vaisseau de 1'etat, loins d'etre arrete" dans sa course, s'elanceroit avec plus de rapidite 
que jamais vers sa regeneration M. Barnave, riant avec lui, quand des riots de sang 
coulaient autour de nous le vertueux Mounier* e"chappant par miracle a vingt 
assassins, qui avoient voulu faire de sa tete un trophic de plus: Voila ce qui me fit 
jurer de ne plus mettre le pied dans cette caverne d' Antropophages [the National 
Assembly] ou je n'avois plus de force d 'clever la voix, ou depuis six semaines je 1'avois 
e'levee en vain. 

"Moi, Mounier, et tous les honnetes gens, ont pens4 que le dernier effort a faire pour 
Je bien e"toit d'en sortir. Aucune idee de crainte ne s'est approche"e de moi. Je 
rougirois de m'en defendre. J'avois encore regu sur la route de la part de ce peuple, 
moins coupable que ceux qui 1'ont enivre de fureur, des acclamations, et des applau- 
dissements, dont d'autres auroient e*te flattes, et qui m'ont fait fremir. C'est a 
1 'indignation, c'est a 1'horreur, c'est aux convulsions physiques, que le seul aspect 
du sang me fait eprouver que j'ai ce"de. On brave une seul mort; on la brave 
plusieurs fois, quand elle peut etre utile. Mais aucune puissance sous le Ciel, mais 
aucune opinion publique, ou privee n'ont le droit de me condamner a soufTrir inutile- 
ment mille supplices par minute, et a perir de d^sespoir, de rage, au milieu des 
triomphes, du crime que je n'ai pu arreter. Us me proscriront, ils confisqueront mes 
biens. Je labourerai la terre, et je ne les verrai plus. Voila ma justification. Vous 
pourrez la lire, la montrer, la laisser copier; tant pis pour ceux qui ne la comprendront 
pas; ce ne sera alors moi qui auroit eu tort de la leur donner." 

This military man had not so good nerves as the peaceable gentleman of the Old 
Jewry. See Mons. Mounier's narrative of these transactions; a man also of honour, 
and virtue, and talents, and therefore a fugitive. 

*N. B. Mr. Mounier was then speaker of the National Assembly. He has since 
been obliged to live in exile, though one of the firmest asserters of liberty. 



212 EDMUND BURKE 

shameful occasion. As a man, it became him to feel for his wife 
and his children, and the faithful guards of his person, that were 
massacred in cold blood about him; as a prince, it became him to feel 
for the strange and frightful transformation of his civilized subjects, 
and to be more grieved for them than solicitous for himself. It dero- 
gates little from his fortitude, while it adds infinitely to the honour 
of his humanity. I am very sorry to say it, very sorry indeed, that 
such personages are in a situation in which it is not becoming in us 
to praise the virtues of the great. 

I hear, and I rejoice to hear, that the great lady, the other object 
of the triumph, has borne that day, (one is interested that beings 
made for suffering should suffer well) and that she bears all the 
succeeding days, that she bears the imprisonment of her husband, 
and her own captivity, and the exile of her friends, and the insulting 
adulation of addresses, and the whole weight of her accumulated 
wrongs, with a serene patience, in a manner suited to her rank and 
race, and becoming the offspring of a sovereign distinguished for 
her piety and her courage: that, like her, she has lofty sentiments; 
that she feels with the dignity of a Roman matron; that in the last 
extremity she will save herself from the last disgrace; and that, if 
she must fall, she will fall by no ignoble hand. 

It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the queen of 
France, then the dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted 
on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful 
vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering 
the elevated sphere she just began to move in, glittering like the 
morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy. Oh! what a revo- 
lution! and what a heart must I have to contemplate without emo- 
tion that elevation and that fall ! Little did I dream when she added 
titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, 
that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against 
disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should 
have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her in a nation of gal- 
lant men, in a nation of men of honour, and of cavaliers. I thought 
ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to 
avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 213 

chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has 
succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, 
never more shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, 
that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination 
of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an 
exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of 
nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise, is gone! 
It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that charity of honor, which 
felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated 
ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice 
itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. 

This mixed system of opinion and sentiment had its origin in the 
ancient chivalry; and the principle, though varied in its appearance 
by the varying state of human affairs, subsisted and influenced 
through a long succession of generations, even to the time we live in. 
If it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great. 
It is this which has given its character to modern Europe. It is this 
which has distinguished it under all its forms of government, and 
distinguished it to its advantage, from the states of Asia, and pos- 
sibly from those states which flourished in the most brilliant periods 
of the antique world. It was this, which, without confounding 
ranks, had produced a noble equality, and handed it down through 
all the gradations of social life. It was this opinion which mitigated 
kings into companions, and raised private men to be fellows with 
kings. Without force or opposition, it subdued the fierceness of pride 
and power; it obliged sovereigns to submit to the soft collar of social 
esteem, compelled stern authority to submit to elegance, and gave a 
dominating vanquisher of laws to be subdued by manners. 

But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which 
made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the 
different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorpo- 
rated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private 
society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light 
and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. 
All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral 
imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, 



214 EDMUND BURKE 

as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and 
to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a 
ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion. 

On this scheme of things, a king is but a man, a queen is but a 
woman; a woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest 
order. All homage paid to the sex in general as such, and without 
distinct views, is to be regarded as romance and folly. Regicide, and 
parricide, and sacrilege, are but fictions of superstition, corrupting 
jurisprudence by destroying its simplicity. The murder of a king, or 
a queen, or a bishop, or a father, are only common homicide; and if 
the people are by any chance, or in any way, gainers by it, a sort of 
homicide much the most pardonable, and into which we ought not 
to make too severe a scrutiny. 

On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy, which is the offspring 
of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of 
solid wisdom as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to 
be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern which 
each individual may find in them from his own private speculations, 
or can spare to them from his own private interests. In the groves 
of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the 
gallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections on the part 
of the commonwealth. On the principles of this mechanic philoso- 
phy, our institutions can never be embodied, if I may use the ex- 
pression, in persons; so as to create in us love, veneration, admira- 
tion, or attachment. But that sort of reason which banishes the 
affections is incapable of filling their place. These public affections, 
combined with manners, are required sometimes as supplements, 
sometimes as correctives, always as aids to law. The precept given 
by a wise man, as well as a great critic, for the construction of poems, 
is equally true as to states: Non satis est pulchra esse poemata, 
dulcia sunto. There ought to be a system of manners in every na- 
tion, which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To 
make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely. 

But power, of some kind or other, will survive the shock in which 
manners and opinions perish; and it will find other and worse means 
for its support. The usurpation which, in order to subvert ancient 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 215 

institutions, has destroyed ancient principles, will hold power by arts 
similar to those by which it has acquired it. When the old feudal 
and chivalrous spirit of fealty, which, by freeing kings from fear, 
freed both kings and subjects from the precautions of tyranny, shall 
be extinct in the minds of men, plots and assassinations will be an- 
ticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation, and 
that long roll of grim and bloody maxims, which form the political 
code of all power, not standing on its own honour, and the honour 
of those who are to obey it. Kings will be tyrants from policy, 
when subjects are rebels from principle. 

When ancient opinions and rules of life are taken away, the loss 
cannot possibly be estimated. From that moment we have no com- 
pass to govern us; nor can we know distinctly to what port we steer. 
Europe, undoubtedly, taken in a mass, was in a flourishing condi- 
tion the day on which your revolution was completed. How much 
of that prosperous state was owing to the spirit of our old manners 
and opinions is not easy to say; but as such causes cannot be indiffer- 
ent in their operation, we must presume, that, on the whole, their 
operation was beneficial. 

We are but too apt to consider things in the state in which we 
find them, without sufficiently adverting to the causes by which 
they have been produced, and possibly may be upheld. Nothing is 
more certain, than that our manners, our civilization, and all the 
good things which are connected with manners and with civiliza- 
tion, have, in this European world of ours, depended for ages upon 
two principles; and were indeed the result of both combined; I 
mean the spirit of a gentleman, and the spirit of religion. The no- 
bility and the clergy, the one by profession, the other by patronage, 
kept learning in existence, even in the midst of arms and confusions, 
and whilst governments were rather in their causes than formed. 
Learning paid back what it received to nobility and to priesthood, 
and paid it with usury, by enlarging their ideas, and by furnishing 
their minds. Happy if they had all continued to know their in- 
dissoluble union, and their proper place! Happy if learning, not 
debauched by ambition, had been satisfied to continue the instruc- 
tor, and not aspired to be the master! Along with its natural pro- 



2l6 EDMUND BURKE 

tectors and guardians, learning will be cast into the mire, and 
trodden down under the hoofs of a swinish multitude. 17 

If, as I suspect, modern letters owe more than they are always 
willing to owe to ancient manners, so do other interests which we 
value full as much as they are worth. Even commerce, and trade, 
and manufacture, the gods of our economical politicians, are them- 
selves perhaps but creatures; are themselves but effects, which, as 
first causes, we choose to worship. They certainly grew under the 
same shade in which learning flourished. They too may decay with 
their natural protecting principles. With you, for the present at 
least, they all threaten to disappear together. Where trade and 
manufactures are wanting to a people, and the spirit of nobility and 
religion remains, sentiment supplies, and not always ill supplies, 
their place; but if commerce and the arts should be lost in an experi- 
ment to try how well a state may stand without these old funda- 
mental principles, what sort of a thing must be a nation of gross, 
stupid, ferocious, and, at the same time, poor and sordid, barbarians, 
destitute of religion, honour, or manly pride, possessing nothing at 
present, and hoping for nothing hereafter? 

I wish you may not be going fast, and by the shortest cut, to that 
horrible and disgustful situation. Already there appears a poverty 
of conception, a coarseness and a vulgarity, in all the proceedings 
of the Assembly and of all their instructors. Their liberty is not 
liberal. Their science is presumptuous ignorance. Their humanity is 
savage and brutal. 

It is not clear, whether in England we learned those grand and 
decorous principles and manners, of which considerable traces yet 
remain, from you, or whether you took them from us. But to you, 
I think, we trace them best. You seem to me to be gentis incuna- 
bula nostrce. France has always more or less influenced manners 
in England; and when your fountain is choked up and polluted, 
the stream will not run long, or not run clear, with us, or perhaps 
with any nation. This gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too 
close and connected a concern in what is done in France. Excuse 
me, therefore, if I have dwelt too long on the atrocious spectacle of 

[ 17 See the fate of Bailly and Condorcet, supposed to be here particularly alluded to. 
Compare the circumstances of the trial and execution of the former with this 
prediction.] 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 21 7 

the 6th of October, 1789, or have given too much scope to the re- 
flections which have arisen in my mind on occasion of the most im- 
portant of all revolutions, which may be dated from that day, I 
mean a revolution in sentiments, manners, and moral opinions. As 
things now stand, with everything respectable destroyed without us, 
and an attempt to destroy within us every principle of respect, one is 
almost forced to apologize for harbouring the common feelings of 
men. 

Why do I feel so differently from the Reverend Dr. Price, and 
those of his lay flock who will choose to adopt the sentiments of his 
discourse? For this plain reason because it is natural I should; 
because we are so made, as to be affected at such spectacles with 
melancholy sentiments upon the unstable condition of mortal pros- 
perity, and the tremendous uncertainty of human greatness; be- 
cause in those natural feelings we learn great lessons; because in 
events like these our passions instruct our reason; because when 
kings are hurled from their thrones by the Supreme Director of 
this great drama, and become the objects of insult to the base, and 
of pity to the good, we behold such disasters in the moral, as we 
should behold a miracle in the physical, order of things. We are 
alarmed into reflection; our minds (as it has long since been ob- 
served) are purified by terror and pity; our weak, unthinking pride 
is humbled under the dispensations of a mysterious wisdom. Some 
tears might be drawn from me, if such a spectacle were exhibited on 
the stage. I should be truly ashamed of finding in myself that 
superficial, theatric sense of painted distress, whilst I could exult 
over it in real life. With such a perverted mind, I could never 
venture to show my face at a tragedy. People would think the tears 
that Garrick formerly, or that Siddons not long since, have extorted 
from me, were the tears of hypocrisy; I should know them to be the 
tears of folly. 

Indeed the theatre is a better school of moral sentiments than 
churches, where the feelings of humanity are thus outraged. Poets 
who have to deal with an audience not yet graduated in the school 
of the rights of men, and who must apply themselves to the moral 
constitution of the heart, would not dare to produce such a triumph 
as a matter of exultation. There, where men follow their natural 



2l8 EDMUND BURKE 

impulses, they would not bear the odious maxims of a Machiavelian 
policy, whether applied to the attainments of monarchical or demo- 
cratic tyranny. They would reject them on the modern, as they 
once did on the ancient stage, where they could not bear even the 
hypothetical proposition of such wickedness in the mouth of a per- 
sonated tyrant, though suitable to the character he sustained. No 
theatric audience in Athens would bear what has been borne, in the 
midst of the real tragedy of this triumphal day; a principal actor 
weighing, as it were in scales hung in a shop of horrors, so much 
actual crime against so much contingent advantage, and after 
putting in and out weights, declaring that the balance was on the 
side of the advantages. They would not bear to see the crimes of 
new democracy posted as in a ledger against the crimes of old 
despotism, and the book-keepers of politics finding democracy still 
in debt, but by no means unable or unwilling to pay the balance. 
In the theatre, the first intuitive glance, without any elaborate proc- 
ess of reasoning, will show, that this method of political computa- 
tion would justify every extent of crime. They would see, that on 
these principles, even where the very worst acts were not perpe- 
trated, it was owing rather to the fortune of the conspirators, than 
to their parsimony in the expenditure of treachery and blood. They 
would soon see, that criminal means once tolerated are soon pre- 
ferred. They present a shorter cut to the object than through the 
highway of the moral virtues. Justifying perfidy and murder for 
public benefit, public benefit would soon become the pretext, and 
perfidy and murder the end; until rapacity, malice, revenge, and 
fear more dreadful than revenge, could satiate their insatiable appe- 
tites. Such must be the consequences of losing, in the splendour 
of these triumphs of the rights of men, all natural sense of wrong 
and right. 

But the Reverend Pastor exults in this "leading in triumph," be- 
cause truly Louis the Sixteenth was "an arbitrary monarch;" that 
is, in other words, neither more nor less than because he was Louis 
the Sixteenth, and because he had the misfortune to be born king 
of France, with the prerogatives of which, a long line of ancestors, 
and a long acquiescence of the people, without any act of his, had 
put him in possession. A misfortune it has indeed turned out to 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 219 

him, that he was born king of France. But misfortune is not crime, 
nor is indiscretion always the greatest guilt. I shall never think that 
a prince, the acts of whose whole reign was a series of concessions to 
his subjects, who was willing to relax his authority, to remit his 
prerogatives, to call his people to a share of freedom, not known, 
perhaps not desired by their ancestors; such a prince, though he 
should be subjected to the common frailties attached to men and to 
princes, though he should have once thought it necessary to provide 
force against the desperate designs manifestly carrying on against 
his person, and the remnants of his authority; though all this should 
be taken into consideration, I shall be led with great difficulty to 
think he deserves the cruel and insulting triumph of Paris and of 
Dr. Price. I tremble for the cause of liberty, from such an example 
to kings. I tremble for the cause of humanity, in the unpunished 
outrages of the most wicked of mankind. But there are some people 
of that low and degenerate fashion of mind, that they look up with 
a sort of complacent awe and admiration to kings, who know 
to keep firm in their seat, to hold a strict hand over their subjects, 
to assert their prerogative, and, by the awakened vigilance of a se- 
vere despotism, to guard against the very first approaches of free- 
dom. Against such as these they never elevate their voice. Deserters 
from principle, listed with fortune, they never see any good in 
suffering virtue, nor any crime in prosperous usurpation. 

If it could have been made clear to me, that the king and queen 
of France (those I mean who were such before the triumph) were 
inexorable and cruel tyrants, that they had formed a deliberate 
scheme for massacring the National Assembly, (I think I have seen 
something like the latter insinuated in certain publications) I should 
think their captivity just. If this be true, much more ought to have 
been done, but done, in my opinion, in another manner. The pun- 
ishment of real tyrants is a noble and awful act of justice; and it 
has with truth been said to be consolatory to the human mind. But 
if I were to punish a wicked king, I should regard the dignity in 
avenging the crime. Justice is grave and decorous, and in its pun- 
ishments rather seems to submit to a necessity, than to make a 
choice. Had Nero, or Agrippina, or Louis the Eleventh, or Charles 
the Ninth, been the subject; if Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, 



220 EDMUND BURKE 

after the murder of Patkul, or his predecessor Christina, after the 
murder of Monaldeschi, had fallen into your hands, Sir, or into 
mine, I am sure our conduct would have been different. 

If the French king, or king of the French, (or by whatever name 
he is known in the new vocabulary of your constitution) has in his 
own person, and that of his queen, really deserved these unavowed, 
but unavenged, murderous attempts, and those frequent indignities 
more cruel than murder, such a person would ill deserve even that 
subordinate executory trust, which I understand is to be placed in 
him; nor is he fit to be called chief in a nation which he has out- 
raged and oppressed. A worse choice for such an office in a new 
commonwealth, than that of a deposed tyrant, could not possibly 
be made. But to degrade and insult a man as the worst of criminals, 
and afterwards to trust him in your highest concerns, as a faithful, 
honest, and zealous servant, is not consistent with reasoning, nor 
prudent in policy, nor safe in practice. Those who could make such 
an appointment must be guilty of a more flagrant breach of trust 
than any they have yet committed against the people. As this is the 
only crime in which your leading politicians could have acted in- 
consistently, I conclude that there is no sort of ground for these 
horrid insinuations. I think no better of all the other calumnies. 

In England, we give no credit to them. We are generous enemies: 
we are faithful allies. We spurn from us with disgust and indigna- 
tion the slanders of those who bring us their anecdotes with the 
attestation of the flower-de-luce on their shoulder. We have Lord 
George Gordon fast in Newgate; and neither his being a public 
proselyte to Judaism, nor his having, in his zeal against Catholic 
priests and all sorts of ecclesiastics, raised a mob (excuse the term, 
it is still in use here) which pulled down all our prisons, have pre- 
served to him a liberty, of which he did not render himself worthy 
by a virtuous use of it. We have rebuilt Newgate, and tenanted the 
mansion. We have prisons almost as strong as the Bastile, for those 
who dare to libel the queens of France. In this spiritual retreat, let 
the noble libeller remain. Let him there meditate on his Thalmud, 
until he learns a conduct more becoming his birth and parts, and 
not so disgraceful to the ancient religion to which he has become 
a proselyte; or until some persons from your side of the water, to 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 221 

please your new Hebrew brethren, shall ransom him. He may then 
be enabled to purchase, with the old hoards of the synagogue, and 
a very small poundage on the long compound interest of the thirty 
pieces of silver, (Dr. Price has shown us what miracles compound 
interest will perform in 1790 years,) the lands which are lately dis- 
covered to have been usurped by the Gallican church. Send us your 
Popish archbishop of Paris, and we will send you our Protestant 
Rabbin. We shall treat the person you send us in exchange like a 
gentleman and an honest man, as he is; but pray let him bring with 
him the fund of his hospitality, bounty, and charity; and, depend 
upon it, we shall never confiscate a shilling of that honourable and 
pious fund, nor think of enriching the treasury with the spoils of 
the poor-box. 

To tell you the truth, my dear Sir, I think the honour of our 
nation to be somewhat concerned in the disclaimer of the proceed- 
ings of this society of the Old Jewry and the London Tavern. I 
have no man's proxy. I speak only for myself, when I disclaim, as 
I do with all possible earnestness, all communion with the actors in 
that triumph, or with the admirers of it. When I assert anything 
else, as concerning the people of England, I speak from observation, 
not from authority; but I speak from the experience I have had in 
a pretty extensive and mixed communication with the inhabitants 
of this kingdom, of all descriptions and ranks, and after a course 
of attentive observations, began early in life, and continued for 
nearly forty years. I have often been astonished, considering that 
we are divided from you but by a slender dyke of about twenty- 
four miles, and that the mutual intercourse between the two coun- 
tries has lately been very great, to find how little you seem to know 
of us. I suspect that this is owing to your forming a judgment of 
this nation from certain publications, which do, very erroneously, if 
they do at all, represent the opinions and dispositions generally prev- 
alent in England. The vanity, restlessness, petulance, and spirit of 
intrigue, of several petty cabals, who attempt to hide their total want 
of consequence in bustle and noise, and purling, and mutual quota- 
tion of each other, makes you imagine that our contemptuous neg- 
lect of their abilities is a mark of general acquiescence in their opin- 
ions. No such thing, I assure you. Because half a dozen grass- 



222 EDMUND BURKE 

hoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate 
chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow 
of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine 
that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; 
that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are 
other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and 
troublesome, insects of the hour. 

I almost venture to affirm, that not one in a hundred amongst us 
participates in the "triumph" of the Revolution Society. If the king 
and queen of France, and their children, were to fall into our hands 
by the chance of war, in the most acrimonious of all hostilities, (I 
deprecate such an event, I deprecate such hostility,) they would be 
treated with another sort of triumphal entry into London. We for- 
merly have had a king of France in that situation; you have read 
how he was treated by the victor in the field; and in what manner 
he was afterwards received in England. Four hundred years have 
gone over us; but I believe we are not materially changed since that 
period. Thanks to our sullen resistance to innovation, thanks to the 
cold sluggishness of our national character, we still bear the stamp 
of our forefathers. We have not (as I conceive) lost the generosity 
and dignity of thinking of the fourteenth century; nor as yet have 
we subtilized ourselves into savages. We are not the converts of 
Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made 
no progress amongst us. Atheists are not our preachers; madmen 
are not our lawgivers. We know that we have made no discoveries, 
and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor 
many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of 
liberty, which were understood long before we were born, alto- 
gether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould 
upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its 
law on our pert loquacity. In England we have not yet been 
completely embo welled of .our natural entrails; we still feel within 
us, and we cherish and cultivate, those inbred sentiments which are 
the faithful guardians, the active monitors of our duty, the true 
supporters of all liberal and manly morals. We have not been drawn 
and trussed, in order that we may be filled, like stuffed birds in a 
museum, with chaff and rags and paltry blurred shreds of paper 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 223 

about the rights of man. We preserve the whole of our feelings still 
native and entire, unsophisticated by pedantry and infidelity. We 
have real hearts of flesh and blood beating in our bosoms. We fear 
God; we look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; 
with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect 
to nobility. 18 Why? Because when such ideas are brought before 
our minds, it is natural to be so affected; because all other feelings 
are false and spurious, and tend to corrupt our minds, to vitiate our 
primary morals, to render us unfit for rational liberty; and by teach- 
ing us a servile, licentious, and abandoned insolence, to be our low 
sport for a few holidays, to make us perfectly fit for, and justly de- 
serving of, slavery, through the whole course of our lives. 

You see, Sir, that in this enlightened age I am bold enough to 
confess, that we are generally men of untaught feelings; that instead 
of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very 
considerable degree, and, to take more shame to ourselves, we 
cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have 
lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we 
cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his 
own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in 
each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to 
avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of 
ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general 
prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom 
which prevails in them. If they find what they seek, and they sel- 
dom fail, they think it more wise to continue the prejudice, with 
the reason involved, than to cast away the coat of prejudice, and to 
leave nothing but the naked reason; because prejudice, with its rea- 
son, has a motive to give action to that reason, and an affection 
which will give it permanence. Prejudice is of ready application in 
the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of 

18 The English are, I conceive, misrepresented in a letter published in one of the 
papers, by a gentleman thought to be a dissenting minister. When writing to Dr. 
Price of the spirit which prevails at Paris, he says, "The spirit of the people in this 
place has abolished all the proud distinctions which the king and nobles had usurped 
in their minds; whether they talk of the /{ing, the noble, or the priest, their whole 
language is that of the most enlightened and liberal amongst the English." If this 
gentleman means to confine the terms enlightened and liberal to one set of men in 
England, it may be true. It is not generally so. 



224 EDMUND BURKE 

wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the 
moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice 
renders a man's virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected 
acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature. 

Your literary men, and your politicians, and so do the whole clan 
of the enlightened among us, essentially differ in these points. They 
have no respect for the wisdom of others; but they pay it off by a 
very full measure of confidence in their own. With them it is a 
sufficient motive to destroy an old scheme of things, because it is an 
old one. As to the new, they are in no sort of fear with regard 
to the duration of a building run up in haste; because duration is 
no object to those who think little or nothing has been done before 
their time, and who place all their hopes in discovery. They con- 
ceive, very systematically, that all things which give perpetuity are 
mischievous, and therefore they are at inexpiable war with all estab- 
lishments. They think that government may vary like modes of 
dress, and with as little ill effect: that there needs no principle of 
attachment, except a sense of present conveniency, to any constitu- 
tion of the state. They always speak as if they were of opinion that 
there is a singular species of compact between them and their mag- 
istrates, which binds the magistrate, but which has nothing recip- 
rocal in it, but that the majesty of the people has a right to dis- 
solve it without any reason, but its will. Their attachment to their 
country itself is only so far as it agrees with some of their fleeting 
projects; it begins and ends with that scheme of polity which falls 
in with their momentary opinion. 

These doctrines, or rather sentiments, seem prevalent with your 
new statesmen. But they are wholly different from those on which 
we have always acted in this country. 

I hear it is sometimes given out in France, that what is doing 
among you is after the example of England. I beg leave to affirm, 
that scarcely anything done with you has originated from the prac- 
tice or the prevalent opinions of this people, either in the act or 
in the spirit of the proceeding. Let me add, that we are as unwill- 
ing to learn these lessons from France, as we are sure that we 
never taught them to that nation. The cabals here, who take a 
sort of share in your transactions, as yet consist of but a handful 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 225 

of people. If unfortunately by their intrigues, their sermons, their 
publications, and by a confidence derived from an expected union 
with the counsels and forces of the French nation, they should draw 
considerable numbers into their faction, and in consequence should 
seriously attempt anything here in imitation of what has been done 
with you, the event, I dare venture to prophesy, will be, that, with 
some trouble to their country, they will soon accomplish their own 
destruction. This people refused to change their law in remote 
ages from respect to the infallibility of popes; and they will not now 
alter it from a pious implicit faith in the dogmatism of philosophers; 
though the former was armed with the anathema and crusade, and 
though the latter should act with the libel and the lamp-iron. 

Formerly your affairs were your own concern only. We felt for 
them as men; but we kept aloof from them, because we were not 
citizens of France. But when we see the model held up to our- 
selves, we must feel as Englishmen, and feeling, we must provide 
as Englishmen. Your affairs, in spite of us, are made a part of our 
interest; so far at least as to keep at a distance your panacea, or 
your plague. If it be a panacea, we do not want it. We know the 
consequences of unnecessary physic. If it be a plague, it is such a 
plague that the precautions of the most severe quarantine ought to 
be established against it. 

I hear on all hands that a cabal, calling itself philosophic, re- 
ceives the glory of many of the late proceedings; and that their 
opinions and systems are the true actuating spirit of the whole of 
them. I have heard of no party in England, literary or political, at 
any time, known by such a description. It is not with you composed 
of those men, is it? whom the vulgar, in their blunt, homely style, 
commonly call atheists and infidels? If it be, I admit that we too 
have had writers of that description, who made some noise in their 
day. At present they repose in lasting oblivion. Who, born within 
the last forty years, has read one word of Collins, and Toland, and 
Tindal, and Chubb, and Morgan, and that whole race who called 
themselves Freethinkers? Who now reads Bolingbroke? Whoever 
read him through? Ask the booksellers of London what is become 
of all these lights of the world. In as few years their few successors 
will go to the family vault of "all the Capulets." But whatever they 



226 EDMUND BURKE 

were, or are, with us, they were and are wholly unconnected in- 
dividuals. With us they kept the common nature of their kind, and 
were not gregarious. They never acted in corps, or were known as 
a faction in the state, nor presumed to influence in that name or 
character, or for the purposes of such a faction, on any of our pub- 
lic concerns. Whether they ought so to exist, and so be permitted 
to act, is another question. As such cabals have not existed in Eng- 
land, so neither has the spirit of them had any influence in estab- 
lishing the original frame of our constitution, or in any one of the 
several reparations and improvements it has undergone. The whole 
has been done under the auspices, and is confirmed by the sanc- 
tions, of religion and piety. The whole has emanated from the sim- 
plicity of our national character, and from a sort of native plainness 
and directness of understanding, which for a long time characterized 
those men who have successively obtained authority amongst us. 
This disposition still remains; at least in the great body of the 
people. 

We know, and what is better, we feel inwardly, that religion is the 
basis of civil society, and the source of all good and of all comfort. 19 
In England we are so convinced of this, that there is no rust of super- 
stition, with which the accumulated absurdity of the human mind 
might have crusted it over in the course of ages, that ninety-nine in 
a hundred of the people of England would not prefer to impiety. 
We shall never be such fools as to call in an enemy to the substance 
of any system to remove its corruptions, to supply its defects, or to 
perfect its construction. If our religious tenets should ever want a 
further elucidation, we shall not call on atheism to explain them. 
We shall not light up our temple from that unhallowed fire. It will 
be illuminated with other lights. It will be perfumed with other 
incense, than the infectious stuff which is imported by the smugglers 
of adulterated metaphysics. If our ecclesiastical establishment should 
want a revision, it is not avarice or rapacity, public or private, that 
we shall employ for the audit, or receipt, or application of its con- 

19 Sit igitur hoc ab initio persuasum civibus, dominos esse omnium rerum ac 
moderatores, deos; eaque, quae gerantur, eorum geri vi, ditione, ac numine; eos- 
demque optime de genere hominum mereri; et qualis quisque sit, quid agat, quid in 
se admittat, qua mente, qua pietate colat religiones intueri; piorum et impiorum 
habere rationem. His enim rebus imbutae mentes haud sane abhorrebunt ab utili 
et a vera sententia, Cic. de Legibus, 1. 2. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 

secrated revenue. Violently condemning neither the Greek nor the 
Armenian, nor, since heats are subsided, the Roman system of re- 
ligion, we prefer the Protestant; not because we think it has less 
of the Christian religion in it, but because, in our judgment, 
it has more. We are Protestants, not from indifference, but from 
zeal. 

We know, and it is our pride to know, that man is by his consti- 
tution a religious animal; that atheism is against, not only our 
reason, but our instincts; and that it cannot prevail long. But if, 
in the moment of riot, and in a drunken delirium from the hot spirit 
drawn out of the alembic of hell, which in France is now so furi- 
ously boiling, we should uncover our nakedness, by throwing oflF 
that Christian religion which has hitherto been our boast and com- 
fort, and one great source of civilization amongst us, and amongst 
many other nations, we are apprehensive (being well aware that the 
mind will not endure a void) that some uncouth, pernicious, and 
degrading superstition might take place of it. 

For that reason, before we take from our establishment the natu- 
ral, human means of estimation, and give it up to contempt, as you 
have done, and in doing it have incurred the penalties you well 
deserve to suffer, we desire that some other may be presented to us 
in the place of it. We shall then form our judgment. 

On these ideas, instead of quarrelling with establishments, as 
some do, who have made a philosophy and a religion of their hos- 
tility to such institutions, we cleave closely to them. We are re- 
solved to keep an established church, an established monarchy, an 
established aristocracy, and an established democracy, each in the 
degree it exists, and in no greater. I shall show you presently how 
much of each of these we possess. 

It has been the misfortune (not, as these gentlemen think it, the 
glory) of this age, that everything is to be discussed, as if the con- 
stitution of our country were to be always a subject rather of alter- 
cation, than enjoyment. For this reason, as well as for the satis- 
faction of those among you (if any such you have among you) 
who may wish to profit of examples, I venture to trouble you with 
a few thoughts upon each of these establishments. I do not think 
they were unwise in ancient Rome, who, when they wished to new- 



228 EDMUND BURKE 

model their laws, set commissioners to examine the besc constituted 
republics within their reach. 

First, I beg leave to speak of our church establishment, which is 
the first of our prejudices, not a prejudice destitute of reason, but 
involving in it profound and extensive wisdom. I speak of it first. 
It is first, and last, and midst in our minds. For, taking ground on 
that religious system, of which we are now in possession, we con- 
tinue to act on the early received and uniformly continued sense of 
mankind. That sense not only, like a wise architect, hath built up 
the august fabric of states, but like a provident proprietor, to pre- 
serve the structure from profanation and ruin, as a sacred temple 
purged from all the impurities of fraud, and violence, and injustice, 
and tyranny, hath solemnly and for ever consecrated the common- 
wealth, and all that officiate in it. This consecration is made, that 
all who administer in the government of men, in which they stand 
in the person of God himself, should have high and worthy notions 
of their function and destination; that their hope should be full of 
immortality; that they should not look to the paltry pelf of the mo- 
ment, nor to the temporary and transient praise of the vulgar, but 
to a solid, permanent existence, in the permanent part of their na- 
ture, and to a permanent fame and glory, in the example they leave 
as a rich inheritance to the world. 

Such sublime principles ought to be infused into persons of ex- 
alted situations; and religious establishments provided, that may 
continually revive and enforce them. Every sort of moral, every sort 
of civil, every sort of politic institution, aiding the rational and natu- 
ral ties that connect the human understanding and affections to the 
divine, are not more than necessary, in order to build up that won- 
derful structure, Man; whose prerogative it is, to be in a great de- 
gree a creature of his own making; and who, when made as he 
ought to be made, is destined to hold no trivial place in the creation. 
But whenever man is put over men, as the better nature ought ever 
to preside, in that case more particularly, he should as nearly as 
possible be approximated to his perfection. 

The consecration of the state, by a state religious establishment, 
is necessary also to operate with a wholesale awe upon free citi- 
zens; because, in order to secure their freedom, they must enjoy 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 22p 

some determinate portion of power. To them therefore a religion 
connected with the state, and with their duty towards it, becomes 
even more necessary than in such societies, where the people, by the 
terms of their subjection, are confined to private sentiments, and the 
management of their own family concerns. All persons possessing 
any portion of power ought to be strongly and awfully impressed 
with an idea that they act in trust: and that they are to account for 
their conduct in that trust to the one great Master, Author, and 
Founder of society. 

This principle ought even to be more strongly impressed upon 
the minds of those who compose the collective sovereignty, than 
upon those of single princes. Without instruments, these princes can 
do nothing. Whoever uses instruments, in finding helps, finds also 
impediments. Their power is therefore by no means complete; nor 
are they safe in extreme abuse. Such persons, however elevated by 
flattery, arrogance, and self-opinion, must be sensible, that, whether 
covered or not by positive law, in some way or other they are ac- 
countable even here for the abuse of their trust. If they are not cut 
off by a rebellion of their people, they may be strangled by the very 
janissaries kept for their security against all other rebellion. Thus 
we have seen the king of France sold by his soldiers for an increase 
of pay. But where popular authority is absolute and unrestrained, 
the people have an infinitely greater, because a far better founded, 
confidence in their own power. They are themselves, in a great 
measure, their own instruments. They are nearer to their objects. 
Besides, they are less under responsibility to one of the greatest con- 
trolling powers on earth, the sense of fame and estimation. The 
share of infamy, that is likely to fall to the lot of each individual in 
public acts, is small indeed; the operation of opinion being in the 
inverse ratio to the number of those who abuse power. Their own 
approbation of their own acts has to them the appearance of a 
public judgment in their favour. A perfect democracy is therefore 
the most shameless thing in the world. As it is the most shameless, 
it is also the most fearless. No man apprehends in his person that 
he can be made subject to punishment. Certainly the people at 
large never ought: for as all punishments are for example towards 
the conservation of the people at large, the people at large can never 



230 EDMUND BURKE 

become the subject of punishment by any human hand. 20 It is there- 
fore of infinite importance that they should not be suffered to im- 
agine that their will, any more than that of kings, is the standard of 
right and wrong. They ought to be persuaded that they are full as 
little entitled, and far less qualified with safety to themselves, to 
use any arbitrary power whatsoever; that therefore they are not, 
under a false show of liberty, but in truth, to exercise an unnatural, 
inverted domination, tyrannically to exact, from those who officiate 
in the state, not an entire devotion to their interest, which is their 
right, but an abject submission to their occasional will; extinguish- 
ing thereby, in all those who serve them, all moral principle, all sense 
of dignity, all use of judgment, and all consistency of character; 
whilst by the very same process they give themselves up a proper, a 
suitable, but a most contemptible prey to the servile ambition of 
popular sycophants, or courtly flatterers. 

When the people have emptied themselves of all the lust of selfish 
will, which without religion it is utterly impossible they ever should, 
when they are conscious that they exercise, and exercise perhaps in 
a higher link of the order of delegation, the power, which to be legiti- 
mate must be according to that eternal, immutable law, in which 
will and reason are the same, they will be more careful how they 
place power in base and incapable hands. In their nomination to 
office, they will not appoint to the exercise of authority, as to a 
pitiful job, but as to a holy function; not according to their sordid, 
selfish interest, nor to their wanton caprice, nor to their arbitrary 
will; but they will confer that power (which any man may well 
tremble to give or to receive) on those only, in whom they may 
discern that predominant proportion of active virtue and wisdom, 
taken together and fitted to the charge, such, as in the great and in- 
evitable mixed mass of human imperfections and infirmities, is to 
be found. 

When they are habitually convinced that no evil can be acceptable, 
either in the act or the permission, to him whose essence is good, 
they will be better able to extirpate out of the minds of all magis- 
trates, civil, ecclesiastical, or military, anything that bears the least 
resemblance to a proud and lawless domination. 

20 Quicquid multis peccatur inultem. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 23! 

But one of the first and most leading principles on which the 
commonwealth and the laws are consecrated, is lest the temporary 
possessors and life-renters in it, unmindful of what they have re- 
ceived from their ancestors, or of what is due to their posterity, 
should act as if they were the entire masters; that they should not 
think it among their rights to cut off the entail, or commit waste 
on the inheritance, by destroying at their pleasure the whole original 
fabric of their society; hazarding to leave to those who come after 
them a ruin instead of an habitation and teaching these successors 
as little to respect their contrivances, as they had themselves re- 
spected the institutions of their forefathers. By this unprincipled 
facility of changing the state as often, and as much, and in as many 
ways, as there are floating fancies or fashions, the whole chain and 
continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one genera- 
tion could link with the other. Men would become little better than 
the flies of a summer. 

And first of all, the science of jurisprudence, the pride of the 
human intellect, which, with all its defects, redundancies, and er- 
rors, is the collected reason of ages, combining the principles of 
original justice with the infinite variety of human concerns, as a 
heap of old exploded errors, would be no longer studied. Personal 
self-sufficiency and arrogance (the certain attendants upon all those 
who have never experienced a wisdom greater than their own) 
would usurp the tribunal. Of course no certain laws, establishing 
invariable grounds of hope and fear, would keep the actions of men 
in a certain course, or direct them to a certain end. Nothing stable 
in the modes of holding property, or exercising function, could 
form a solid ground on which any parent could speculate in the 
education of his offspring, or in a choice for their future establish- 
ment in the world. No principles would be early worked into the 
habits. As soon as the most able instructor had completed his la- 
borious course of institution, instead of sending forth his pupil, ac- 
complished in a virtuous discipline, fitted to procure him attention 
and respect, in his place in society, he would find everything altered; 
and that he had turned out a poor creature to the contempt and 
derision of the world, ignorant of the true grounds of estimation. 
Who would insure a tender and delicate sense of honour to beat 



232 EDMUND BURKE 

almost with the first pulses of the heart, when no man could know 
what would be the test of honour in a nation, continually varying 
the standard of its coin? No part of life would retain its acquisi- 
tions. Barbarism with regard to science and literature, unskilfulness 
with regard to arts and manufactures, would infallibly succeed to 
the want of a steady education and settled principle; and thus the 
commonwealth itself would, in a few generations, crumble away, be 
disconnected into the dust and powder of individuality, and at 
length dispersed to all the winds of heaven. 

To avoid therefore the evils of inconstancy and versatility, ten 
thousand times worse than those of obstinacy and the blindest preju- 
dice, we have consecrated the state, that no man should approach 
to look into its defects or corruptions but with due caution; that he 
should never dream of beginning its reformation by its subversion; 
that he should approach to the faults of the state as to the wounds 
of a father, with pious awe and trembling solicitude. By this wise 
prejudice we are taught to look with horror on those children of 
their country, who are prompt rashly to hack that aged parent in 
pieces, and put him into the kettle of magicians, in hopes that by 
their poisonous weeds, and wild incantations, they may regenerate 
the paternal constitution, and renovate their father's life. 

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of 
mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure but the sta'e 
ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership 
agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or 
some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary 
interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be 
looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in 
things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary 
and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partner- 
ship in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. 
As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many gen- 
erations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are 
living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and 
those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is 
but a clause in the great primaeval contract of eternal society, linking 
the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and in- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 233 

visible world, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the invio- 
lable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in 
their appointed place. This law is not subject to the will of those, 
who by an obligation above them, and infinitely superior, are bound 
to submit their will to that law. The municipal corporations of that 
universal kingdom are not morally at liberty at their pleasure, and 
on their speculations of a contingent improvement, wholly to sepa- 
rate and tear asunder the bands of their subordinate community, and 
to dissolve it into an unsocial, uncivil, unconnected chaos of elemen- 
tary principles. It is the first and supreme necessity only, a necessity 
that is not chosen, but chooses, a necessity paramount to deliberation, 
that admits no discussion, and demands no evidence, which alone 
can justify a resort to anarchy. This necessity is no exception to 
the rule; because this necessity itself is a part too of that moral and 
physical disposition of things, to which man must be obedient by 
consent or force; but if that which is only submission to necessity 
should be made the object of choice, the law is broken, nature is dis- 
obeyed, and the rebellious are outlawed, cast forth, and exiled, from 
this world of reason, and order, and peace, and virtue, and fruitful 
penitence, into the antagonist world of madness, discord, vice, con- 
fusion, and unavailing sorrow. 

These, my dear Sir, are, were, and, I think, long will be, the sen- 
timents of not the least learned and reflecting part of this kingdom. 
They, who are included in this description, form their opinions on 
such grounds as such persons ought to form them. The less in- 
quiring receive them from an authority, which those whom Provi- 
dence dooms to live on trust need not be ashamed to rely on. These 
two sorts of men move in the same direction, though in a different 
place. They both move with the order of the universe. They all 
know or feel this great ancient truth: "Quod illi principi et praepo- 
tenti Deo qui omnem hunc mundum regit, nihil eorum quae quidem 
fiant in terris acceptius quam concilia et coetus hominum jure sociati 
quae civitates appellantur." They take this tenet of the head and 
heart, not from the great name which it immediately bears, nor 
from the greater from whence it is derived; but from that which 
alone can give true weight and sanction to any learned opinion, the 
common nature and common relation of men. Persuaded that all 



234 EDMUND BURKE 

things ought to be done with reference, and referring all to the 
point of reference to which all should be directed, they think them- 
selves bound, not only as individuals in the sanctuary of the heart, 
or as congregated in that personal capacity, to renew the memory 
of their high origin and cast; but also in their corporate character 
to perform their national homage to the institutor, and author, and 
protector of civil society; without which civil society man could not 
by any possibility arrive at the perfection of which his nature is 
capable, nor even make a remote and faint approach to it. They 
conceive that He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, 
willed also the necessary means of its perfection. He willed there- 
fore the state He willed its connexion with the source and original 
archetype of all perfection. They who are convinced of this his will, 
which is the law of laws, and the sovereign of sovereigns, cannot 
think it reprehensible that this our corporate fealty and homage, 
that this our recognition of a seigniory paramount, I had almost 
said this oblation of the state itself, as a worthy offering on the 
high altar of universal praise, should be performed as all public, 
solemn acts are performed, in buildings, in music, in decoration, in 
speech, in the dignity of persons, according to the customs of man- 
kind, taught by their nature; this is, with modest splendour and 
unassuming state, with mild majesty and sober pomp. For those 
purposes they think some part of the wealth of the country is as 
usefully employed as it can be in fomenting the luxury of individ- 
uals. It is the public ornament. It is the public consolation. It nour- 
ishes the public hope. The poorest man finds his own importance 
and dignity in it, whilst the wealth and pride of individuals at every 
moment makes the man of humble rank and fortune sensible of 
his inferiority, and degrades and vilifies his condition. It is for the 
man in humble life, and to raise his nature, and to put him in 
mind of a state in which the privileges of opulence will cease, when 
he will be equal by nature, and may be more than equal by virtue, 
that this portion of the general wealth of his country is employed 
and sanctified. 

I assure you I do not aim at singularity. I give you opinions which 
have been accepted amongst us, from very early times to this mo- 
ment, with a continued and general approbation, and which indeed 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 235 

are so worked into my mind, that I am unable to distinguish what 
I have learned from others from the results of my own meditation. 

It is on some such principles that the majority of the people of 
England, far from thinking a religious national establishment un- 
lawful, hardly think it lawful to be without one. In France you are 
wholly mistaken if you do not believe us above all other things at- 
tached to it, and beyond all other nations; and when this people has 
acted unwisely and unjustifiably in its favour, (as in some instances 
they have done most certainly) in their very errors you will at least 
discover their zeal. 

This principle runs through the whole system of their polity. 
They do not consider their church establishment as convenient, but 
as essential to their state; not as a thing heterogeneous and separa- 
ble; something added for accommodation; what they may either 
keep or lay aside, according to their temporary ideas of convenience. 
They consider it as the foundation of their whole constitution, with 
which, and with every part of which, it holds an indissoluble union. 
Church and state are ideas inseparable in their minds, and scarcely 
is the one ever mentioned without mentioning the other. 

Our education is so formed as to confirm and fix this impression. 
Our education is in a manner wholly in the hands of ecclesiastics, 
and in all stages from infancy to manhood. Even when our youth, 
leaving schools and universities, enter that most important period of 
life which begins to link experience and study together, and when 
with that view they visit other countries, instead of old domestics 
whom we have seen as governors to principal men from other parts, 
three-fourths of those who go abroad with our young nobility and 
gentlemen are ecclesiastics; not as austere masters, nor as mere 
followers; but as friends and companions of a graver character, and 
not seldom persons as well born as themselves. With them, as rela- 
tions, they most constantly keep up a close connexion through life. 
By this connexion we conceive that we attach our gentlemen to the 
church; and we liberalize the church by an intercourse with the 
leading characters of the country. 

So tenacious are we of the old ecclesiastical modes and fashions 
of institution, that very little alteration has been made in them 
since the fourteenth or fifteenth century: adhering in this particular, 



236 EDMUND BURKE 

as in all things else, to our old settled maxim, never entirely nor at 
once to depart from antiquity. We found these old institutions, 
on the whole, favourable to morality and discipline; and we thought 
they were susceptible of amendment, without altering the ground. 
We thought that they were capable of receiving and meliorating, 
and above all of preserving, the accessions of science and literature, 
as the order of Providence should successively produce them. And 
after all, with this Gothic and monkish education (for such it is in 
the ground-work) we may put in our claim to as ample and as 
early a share in all the improvements in science, in arts, and in litera- 
ture, which have illuminated and adorned the modern world, as 
any other nation in Europe: we think one main cause of this im- 
provement was our not despising the patrimony of knowledge which 
was left us by our forefathers. 

It is from our attachment to a church establishment, that the Eng- 
lish nation did not think it wise to intrust that great, fundamental 
interest of the whole to what they trust no part of their civil or 
military public service, that is, to the unsteady and precarious con- 
tribution of individuals. They go further. They certainly never 
have suffered, and never will suffer, the fixed estate of the church 
to be converted into a pension, to depend on the treasury, and to be 
delayed, withheld, or perhaps to be extinguished, by fiscal diffi- 
culties: which difficulties may sometimes be pretended for political 
purposes, and are in fact often brought on by the extravagance, neg- 
ligence, and rapacity of politicians. The people of England think 
that they have constitutional motives, as well as religious, against 
any project of turning their independent clergy into ecclesiastical 
pensioners of state. They tremble for their liberty, from the influ- 
ence of a clergy dependent on the crown; they tremble for the pub- 
lic tranquillity from the disorders of a factious clergy, if it were 
made to depend upon any other than the crown. They therefore 
made their church, like their king and their nobility, independent. 

From the united considerations of religion and constitutional 
policy, from their opinion of a duty to make sure provision for the 
consolation of the feeble and the instruction of the ignorant, they 
have incorporated and identified the estate of the church with the 
mass of private property, of which the state is not the proprietor, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 237 

either for use or dominion, but the guardian only and the regulator. 
They have ordained that the provision of this establishment might 
be as stable as the earth on which it stands, and should not fluctuate 
with the Euripus of funds and actions. 

The men of England, the men, I mean, of light and leading in 
England, whose wisdom (if they have any) is open and direct, 
would be ashamed, as of a silly, deceitful trick, to profess any re- 
ligion in name, which by their proceedings, they appear to con- 
temn. If by their conduct (the only language that rarely lies) they 
seemed to regard the great ruling principle of the moral and the 
natural world, as a mere invention to keep the vulgar in obedience, 
they apprehend that by such a conduct they would defeat the politic 
purpose they have in view. They would find it difficult to make 
others believe in a system to which they manifestly give no credit 
themselves. The Christian statesmen of this land would indeed first 
provide for the multitude; because it is the multitude; and is there- 
fore, as such, the first object in the ecclesiastical institution, and in 
all institutions. They have been taught, that the circumstance of the 
gospel's being preached to the poor, was one of the great tests of its 
true mission. They think, therefore, that those do not believe 
it, who do not take care it should be preached to the poor. But as 
they know that charity is not confined to any one description, but 
ought to apply itself to all men who have wants, they are not 
deprived of a due and anxious sensation of pity to the distresses of 
the miserable great. They are not repelled through a fastidious deli- 
cacy, at the stench of their arrogance and presumption, from a me- 
dicinal attention to their mental blotches and running sores. They 
are sensible that religious instruction is of more consequence to 
them than to any others; from the greatness of the temptation to 
which they are exposed; from the important consequences that at- 
tend their faults; from the contagion of their ill example; from the 
necessity of bowing down the stubborn neck of their pride and ambi- 
tion to the yoke of moderation and virtue; from a consideration of 
the fat stupidity and gross ignorance concerning what imports men 
most to know, which prevails at courts, and at the head of armies, 
and in senates, as much as at the loom and in the field. 

The English people are satisfied, that to the great the consolations 



238 EDMUND BURKE 

of religion are as necessary as its instructions. They too are among 
the unhappy. They feel personal pain, and domestic sorrow. In these 
they have no privilege, but are subject to pay their full contingent 
to the contributions levied on mortality. They want this sovereign 
balm under their gnawing cares and anxieties, which, being less 
conversant about the limited wants of animal life, range without 
limit, and are diversified by infinite combinations, in the wild and 
unbounded regions of imagination. Some charitable dole is wanting 
to these, our often very unhappy brethren, to fill the gloomy void 
that reigns in minds which have nothing on earth to hope or fear; 
something to relieve in the killing languor and over-laboured lassi- 
tude of those who have nothing to do; something to excite an appe- 
tite to existence in the palled satiety which attends on all pleasures 
which may be bought, where nature is not left to her own process, 
where even desire is anticipated, and therefore fruition defeated 
by meditated schemes and contrivances of delight; and no interval, 
no obstacle, is interposed between the wish and the accomplishment. 
The people of England know how little influence the teachers of 
religion are likely to have with the wealthy and powerful of long 
standing, and how much less with the newly fortunate, if they ap- 
pear in a manner no way assorted to those with whom they must 
associate, and over whom they must even exercise, in some cases, 
something like an authority. What must they think of that body 
of teachers, if they see it in no part above the establishment of their 
domestic servants? If the poverty were voluntary, there might be 
some difference. Strong instances of self-denial operate powerfully 
on our minds; and a man who has no wants has obtained great 
freedom, and firmness, and even dignity. But as the mass of any 
description of men are but men, and their poverty cannot be volun- 
tary, that disrespect, which attends upon all lay poverty, will not de- 
part from the ecclesiastical. Our provident constitution has there- 
fore taken care that those who are to instruct presumptuous igno- 
rance, those who are to be censors over insolent vice, should neither 
incur their contempt, nor live upon their alms; nor will it tempt 
the rich to a neglect of the true medicine of their minds. For these 
reasons, whilst we provide first for the poor, and with a parental 
solicitude, we have not relegated religion (like something we were 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 239 

ashamed to show) to obscure municipalities, or rustic villages. No! 
we will have her to exalt her mitred front in courts and parliaments. 
We will have her mixed throughout the whole mass of life, and 
blended with all the classes of society. The people of England will 
show to the haughty potentates of the world, and to their talking 
sophisters, that a free, a generous, an informed nation honours the 
high magistrates of its church; that it will not suffer the insolence 
of wealth and titles, or any other species of proud pretension, to look 
down with scorn upon what they look up to with reverence; nor 
presume to trample on that acquired personal nobility, which they 
intend always to be, and which often is, the fruit, not the reward, 
(for what can be the reward?) of learning, piety, and virtue. They 
can see, without pain or grudging, an archbishop precede a duke. 
They can see a bishop of Durham, or a bishop of Winchester, in 
possession of ten thousand pounds a year; and cannot conceive why 
it is in worse hands than estates to the like amount in the hands of 
this earl, or that squire; although it may be true, that so many dogs 
and horses are not kept by the former, and fed with the victuals 
which ought to nourish the children of the people. It is true, the 
whole church revenue is not always employed, and to every shilling, 
in charity; nor perhaps ought it; but something is generally so 
employed. It is better to cherish virtue and humanity, by leaving 
much to free will, even with some loss to the object, than to attempt 
to make men mere machines and instruments of a political benevo- 
lence. The world on the whole will gain by a liberty, without which 
virtue cannot exist. 

When once the commonwealth has established the estates of the 
church as property, it can, consistently, hear nothing of the more or 
the less. Too much and too little are treason against property. What 
evil can arise from the quantity in any hand, whilst the supreme 
authority has the full, sovereign superintendence over this, as over 
all property, to prevent every species of abuse; and, whenever it 
notably deviates, to give to it a direction agreeable to the purposes 
of its institution. 

In England most of us conceive that it is envy and malignity 
towards those who are often the beginners of their own fortune, and 
not a love of the self-denial and mortification of the ancient church, 



240 EDMUND BURKE 

that makes some look askance at the distinctions, and honours, and 
revenues, which, taken from no person, are set apart for virtue. The 
ears of the people of England are distinguishing. They hear these 
men speak broad. Their tongue betrays them. Their language is 
in the patois of fraud; in the cant and gibberish of hypocrisy. The 
people of England must think so, when these praters affect to carry 
back the clergy to that primitive, evangelic poverty, which, in the 
spirit, ought always to exist in them, (and in us too, however we 
may like it,) but in the thing must be varied, when the relation of 
that body to the state is altered; when manners, when modes of life, 
when indeed the whole order of human affairs, has undergone a 
total revolution. We shall believe those reformers then to be honest 
enthusiasts, not, as now we think them, cheats and deceivers, when 
we see them throwing their own goods into common, and sub- 
mitting their own persons to the austere discipline of the early 
church. 

With these ideas rooted in their minds, the Commons of Great 
Britain, in the national emergencies, will never seek their resource 
from the confiscation of the estates of the church and poor. Sac- 
rilege and proscription are not among the ways and means of our 
committee of supply. The Jews in Change Alley have not yet dared 
to hint their hopes of a mortgage on the revenues belonging to the 
see of Canterbury. I am not afraid that I shall be disavowed, when 
I assure you, that there is not one public man in this kingdom, 
whom you would wish to quote, no not one, of any party or de- 
scription, who does not reprobate the dishonest, perfidious, and 
cruel confiscation which the National Assembly has been compelled 
to make of that property, which it was their first duty to protect. 

It is with the exultation of a little national pride I tell you, that 
those amongst us who have wished to pledge the societies of Paris in 
the cup of their abominations have been disappointed. The robbery 
of your church has proved a security to the possession of ours. It 
has roused the people. They see with horror and alarm that enor- 
mous and shameless act of proscription. It has opened, and will 
more and more open, their eyes upon the selfish enlargement of 
mind, and the narrow liberality of sentiment, of insidious men, 
which, commencing in close hypocrisy and fraud, have ended in 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 24! 

open violence and rapine. At home we behold similar beginnings. 
We are on our guard against similar conclusions. 

I hope we shall never be so totally lost to all sense of the duties 
imposed upon us by the law of social union, as upon any pretext 
of public service, to confiscate the goods of a single unoffending citi- 
zen. Who but a tyrant (a name expressive of everything which can 
vitiate and degrade human nature) could think of seizing on the 
property of men, unaccused, unheard, untried, by whole descrip- 
tions, by hundreds and thousands together ? Who, that had not lost 
every trace of humanity, could think of casting down men of exalted 
rank and sacred function, some of them of an age to call at once 
for reverence and compassion, of casting them down from the high- 
est situation in the commonwealth, wherein they were maintained 
by their own landed property, to a state of indigence, depression, 
and contempt? 

The confiscators truly have made some allowance to their victims 
from the scraps and fragments of their own tables, from which they 
have been so harshly driven, and which have been so bountifully 
spread for a feast to the harpies of usury. But to drive men from 
independence to live on alms, is itself great cruelty. That which 
might be a tolerable condition to men in one state of life, and not 
habituated to other things, may, when all these circumstances are 
altered, be a dreadful revolution; and one to which a virtuous mind 
would feel pain in condemning any guilt, except that which would 
demand the life of the offender. But to many minds this punish- 
ment of degradation and infamy is worse than death. Undoubtedly 
it is an infinite aggravation of this cruel suffering, that the persons 
who were taught a double prejudice in favour of religion, by educa- 
tion, and by the place they held in the administration of its func- 
tions, are to receive the remnants of their property as alms from the 
profane and impious hands of those who had plundered them of all 
the rest; to receive (if they are at all to receive) not from the chari- 
table contributions of the faithful, but from the insolent tenderness 
of known and avowed atheism, the maintenance of religion, meas- 
ured out to them on the standard of the contempt in which it is 
held; and for the purpose of rendering those who receive the allow- 
ance vile, and of no estimation, in the eyes of mankind. 



242 EDMUND BURKE 

But this act of seizure of property, it seems, is a judgment in law, 
and not a confiscation. They have, it seems, found out in the acad- 
emies of the Palais Royal, and the Jacobins, that certain men had 
no right to the possessions which they held under law, usage, the 
decisions of courts, and the accumulated prescription of a thousand 
years. They say that ecclesiastics are fictitious persons, creatures of 
the state, whom at pleasure they may destroy, and of course limit and 
modify in every particular; that the goods they possess are not prop- 
erly theirs, but belong to the state which created the fiction; and 
we are therefore not to trouble ourselves with what they may suffer 
in their natural feelings and natural persons, on account of what 
is done towards them in this their constructive character. Of what 
import is it under what names you injure men, and deprive them 
of the just emoluments of a profession, in which they were not only 
permitted but encouraged by the state to engage; and upon the 
supposed certainty of which emoluments they had formed the plan 
of their lives, contracted debts, and led multitudes to an entire de- 
pendence upon them? 

You do not imagine, Sir, that I am going to compliment this 
miserable distinction of persons with any long discussion. The 
arguments of tyranny are as contemptible as its force is dreadful. 
Had not your confiscators, by their early crimes, obtained a power 
which secures indemnity to all the crimes of which they have since 
been guilty, or that they can commit, it is not the syllogism of the 
logician, but the lash of the executioner, that would have refuted a 
sophistry which becomes an accomplice of theft and murder. The 
sophistic tyrants of Paris are loud in their declamations against the 
departed regal tyrants, who in former ages have vexed the world. 
They are thus bold, because they are safe from the dungeons and 
iron cages of their old masters. Shall we be more tender of the 
tyrants of our own time, when we see them acting worse tragedies 
under our eyes ? shall we not use the same liberty that they do, when 
we can use it with the same safety? when to speak honest truth 
only requires a contempt of the opinions of those whose actions we 
abhor ? 

This outrage on all the rights of property was at first covered with 
what, on the system of their conduct, was the most astonishing of all 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 243 

pretexts a regard to national faith. The enemies to property at first 
pretended a most tender, delicate, and scrupulous anxiety for keep- 
ing the king's engagements with the public creditor. These pro- 
fessors of the rights of men are so busy in teaching others, that they 
have not leisure to learn anything themselves; otherwise they would 
have known, that it is to the property of the citizen, and not to the 
demands of the creditor of the state, that the first and original faith 
of civil society is pledged. The claim of the citizen is prior in time, 
paramount in title, superior in equity. The fortunes of individuals, 
whether possessed by acquisition, or by descent, or in virtue of a 
participation in the goods of some community, were no part of the 
creditor's security, expressed or implied. They never so much as 
entered into his head when he made his bargain. He well knew 
that the public, whether represented by a monarch or by a senate, 
can pledge nothing but the public estate; and it can have no public 
estate, except in what it derives from a just and proportioned im- 
position upon the citizens at large. This was engaged, and nothing 
else could be engaged, to the public creditor. No man can mortgage 
his injustice as a pawn for his fidelity. 

It is impossible to avoid some observation on the contradictions 
caused by the extreme rigour and the extreme laxity of this new 
public faith, which influenced in this transaction, and which influ- 
enced not according to the nature of the obligation, but to the de- 
scription of the persons to whom it was engaged. No acts of the old 
government of the kings of France are held valid in the National 
Assembly, except his pecuniary engagements; acts of all others of 
the most ambiguous legality. The rest of all the acts of that 
royal government are considered in so odious a light, that to have 
a claim under its authority is looked on as a sort of crime. A pen- 
sion, given as a reward for service to the state, is surely as good a 
ground of property as any security for money advanced to the state. 
It is better; for money is paid, and well paid, to obtain that service. 
We have, however, seen multitudes of people under this description 
in France, who never had been deprived of their allowances by the 
most arbitrary ministers, in the most arbitrary times, by this assem- 
bly of the rights of men, robbed without mercy. They were told, in 
answer to their claim to the bread earned with their blood, that 



244 EDMUND BURKE 

their services had not been rendered to the country that now exists. 

This laxity of public faith is not confined to those unfortunate 
persons. The Assembly, with perfect consistency it must be owned, 
is engaged in a respectable deliberation how far it is bound by the 
treaties made with other nations under the former government, and 
their committee is to report which of them they ought to ratify, and 
which not. By this means they have put the external fidelity of this 
virgin state on a par with its internal. 

It is not easy to conceive upon what rational principle the royal 
government should not, of the two, rather have possessed the power 
of rewarding service, and making treaties, in virtue of its preroga- 
tive, than that of pledging to creditors the revenue of the state, 
actual and possible. The treasure of the nation, of all things, has 
been the least allowed to the prerogative of the king of France, or 
to the prerogative of any king in Europe. To mortgage the public 
revenue implies the sovereign dominion, in the fullest sense, over the 
public purse. It goes far beyond the trust even of a temporary and 
occasional taxation. The acts, however, of that dangerous power 
(the distinctive mark of a boundless despotism) have been alone 
held sacred. Whence arose this preference given by a democratic 
assembly to a body of property deriving its title from the most criti- 
cal and obnoxious of all the exertions of monarchical authority? 
Reason can furnish nothing to reconcile inconsistency; nor can par- 
tial favour be accounted for upon equitable principles. But the con- 
tradiction and partiality which admit no justification, are not the 
less without an adequate cause; and that cause I do not think it 
difficult to discover. 

By the vast debt of France a great monied interest has insensibly 
grown up, and with it a great power. By the ancient usages which 
prevailed in that kingdom, the general circulation of property, and 
in particular the mutual convertibility of land into money, and of 
money into land, had always been a matter of difficulty. Family 
settlements, rather more general and more strict than they are in 
England, the jus retractus, the great mass of landed property held 
by the crown, and, by a maxim of the French law, held inalienably, 
the vast estates of the ecclesiastical corporations, all these had kept 
the landed and monied interests more separated in France, less mis- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 245 

cible, and the owners of the two distinct species of property not so 
well disposed to each other as they are in this country. 

The monied property was long looked on with rather an evil eye 
by the people. They saw it connected with their distresses, and ag- 
gravating them. It was no less envied by the old landed interests, 
partly for the same reasons that rendered it obnoxious to the peo- 
ple, but much more so as it eclipsed, by the splendour of an osten- 
tatious luxury, the unendowed pedigrees and naked titles of several 
among the nobility. Even when the nobility, which represented the 
more permanent landed interest, united themselves by marriage 
(which sometimes was the case) with the other description, the 
wealth which saved the family from ruin, was supposed to contami- 
nate and degrade it. Thus the enmities and heart-burnings of these 
parties were increased even by the usual means by which discord is 
made to cease and quarrels are turned into friendship. In the mean 
time, the pride of the wealthy men, not noble or newly noble, in- 
creased with its cause. They felt with resentment an inferiority, the 
grounds of which they did not acknowledge. There was no measure 
to which they were not willing to lend themselves, in order to be re- 
venged of the outrages of this rival pride, and to exalt their wealth 
to what they considered as its natural rank and estimation. They 
struck at the nobility through the crown and the church. They at- 
tacked them particularly on the side on which they thought them 
the most vulnerable, that is, the possessions of the church, which, 
through the patronage of the crown, generally devolved upon the 
nobility. The bishoprics, and the great commendatory abbeys, were, 
with few exceptions, held by that order. 

In this state of real, though not always perceived, warfare between 
the noble ancient landed interest and the new monied interest, the 
greatest because the most applicable strength was in the hands of 
the latter. The monied interest is in its nature more ready for any 
adventure; and its possessors more disposed to new enterprises of 
any kind. Being of a recent acquisition, it falls in more naturally 
with any novelties. It is therefore the kind of wealth which will be 
resorted to by all who wish for change. 

Along with the monied interest, a new description of men had 
grown up, with whom that interest soon formed a close and marked 



246 EDMUND BURKE 

union; I mean the political men of letters. Men of letters, fond of 
distinguishing themselves, are rarely averse to innovation. Since the 
decline of the life and greatness of Louis the Fourteenth, they were 
not so much cultivated either by him, or by the regent, or the suc- 
cessors to the crown; nor were they engaged to the court by fa- 
vours and emoluments so systematically as during the splendid 
period of that ostentatious and not impolitic reign. What they lost 
in the old court protection, they endeavoured to make up by joining 
in a sort of incorporation of their own; to which the two academies 
of France, and afterwards the vast undertaking of the Encyclo- 
paedia, carried on by a society of these gentlemen, did not a little 
contribute. 

The literary cabal had some years ago formed something like a 
regular plan for the destruction of the Christian religion. This ob- 
ject they pursued with a degree of zeal which hitherto had been dis- 
covered only in the propagators of some system of piety. They were 
possessed with a spirit of proselytism in the most fanatical degree; 
and from thence, by an easy progress, with the spirit of persecution 
according to their means. 21 What was not to be done towards their 
great end by any direct or immediate act, might be wrought by a 
longer process through the medium of opinion. To command that 
opinion, the first step is to establish a dominion over those who 
direct it. They contrived to possess themselves, with great method 
and perseverance, of all the avenues to literary fame. Many of them 
indeed stood high in the ranks of literature and science. The world 
had done them justice; and in favour of general talents forgave the 
evil tendency of their peculiar principles. This was true liberality; 
which they returned by endeavouring to confine the reputation of 
sense, learning, and taste to themselves or their followers. I will 
venture to say that this narrow, exclusive spirit has not been less 
prejudicial to literature and to taste, than to morals and true philoso- 
phy. These atheistical fathers have a bigotry of their own; and they 
have learnt to talk against monks with the spirit of a monk. But 
in some things they are men of the world. The resources of intrigue 
are called in to supply the defects of argument and wit. To this 

21 This (down to the end of the first sentence in the next paragraph) and some other 
parts here and there, were inserted on his reading the manuscript, by my lost Son. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 247 

system of literary monopoly was joined an unremitting industry to 
blacken and discredit in every way, and by every means, all those 
who did not hold to their faction. To those who have observed the 
spirit of their conduct, it has long been clear that nothing was 
wanted but the power of carrying the intolerance of the tongue and 
of the pen into a persecution which would strike at property, liberty, 
and life. 

The desultory and faint persecution carried on against them, 
more from compliance with form and decency, than with serious 
resentment, neither weakened their strength, nor relaxed their ef- 
forts. The issue of the whole was, that, what with opposition, and 
what with success, a violent and malignant zeal, of a kind hitherto 
unknown in the world, had taken an entire possession of their 
minds, and rendered their whole conversation, which otherwise 
would have been pleasing and instructive, perfectly disgusting. A 
spirit of cabal, intrigue, and proselytism, pervaded all their thoughts, 
words, and actions. And, as controversial zeal soon turns its thoughts 
on force, they began to insinuate themselves into a correspondence 
with foreign princes; in hopes, through their authority, which at 
first they flattered, they might bring about the changes they had in 
view. To them it was indifferent whether these changes were to be 
accomplished by the thunderbolt of despotism, or by the earthquake 
of popular commotion. The correspondence between this cabal and 
the late king of Prussia will throw no small light upon the spirit 
of all their proceedings. 22 For the same purpose for which they in- 
trigued with princes, they cultivated, in a distinguished manner, the 
monied interest of France; and partly through the means furnished 
by those whose peculiar offices gave them the most extensive and 
certain means of communication, they carefully occupied all the 
avenues to opinion. 

Writers, especially when they act in a body, and with one direc- 
tion, have great influence on the public mind; the alliance, therefore, 
of these writers with the monied interest 23 had no small effect in 
removing the popular odium and envy which attended that species 
of wealth. These writers, like the propagators of all novelties, pre- 

22 1 do not choose to shock the feeling of the moral reader with any quotation of 
their vulgar, base, and profane language. 

23 Their connexion with Turgot and almost all the people of the finance. 



248 EDMUND BURKE 

tended to a great zeal for the poor, and the lower orders, whilst in 
their satires they rendered hateful, by every exaggeration, the faults 
of courts, of nobility, and of priesthood. They became a sort of 
demagogues. They served as a link to unite, in favour of one object, 
obnoxious wealth to restless and desperate poverty. 

As these two kinds of men appear principal leaders in all the late 
transactions, their junction and politics will serve to account, not 
upon any principles of law or of policy, but as a cause, for the general 
fury with which all the landed property of ecclesiastical corporations 
has been attacked; and the great care which, contrary to their pre- 
tended principles, has been taken, of a monied interest originating 
from the authority of the crown. All the envy against wealth and 
power was artificially directed against other descriptions of riches. 
On what other principle than that which I have stated can we ac- 
count for an appearance so extraordinary and unnatural as that of 
the ecclesiastical possessions, which had stood so many successions 
of ages and shocks of civil violences, and were girded at once by 
justice, and by prejudice, being applied to the payment of debts, 
comparatively recent, invidious, and contracted by a decried and 
subverted government? 

Was the public estate a sufficient stake for the public debts? As- 
sume that it was not, and that a loss must be incurred somewhere 
When the only estate lawfully possessed, and which the contracting 
parties had in contemplation at the time in which their bargain was 
made, happens to fail, who according to the principles of natural 
and legal equity, ought to be the sufferer? Certainly it ought to 
be either the party who trusted, or the party who persuaded him to 
trust; or both; and not third parties who had no concern with the 
transaction. Upon any insolvency they ought to suffer who are weak 
enough to lend upon bad security, or they who fraudulently held 
out a security that was not valid. Laws are acquainted with no 
other rules of decision. But by the new institute of the rights of 
men, the only persons, who in equity ought to suffer, are the only 
persons who are to be saved harmless: those are to answer the debt 
who neither were lenders nor borrowers, mortgagers nor mort- 
gagees. 

What had the clergy to do with these transactions? What had 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 249 

they to do with any public engagement further than the extent of 
their own debt ? To that, to be sure, their estates were bound to the 
last acre. Nothing can lead more to the true spirit of the Assem- 
bly, which fits for public confiscation, with its new equity, and its 
new morality, than an attention to their proceeding with regard to 
this debt of the clergy. The body of confiscators, true to that monied 
interest for which they were false to every other, have found the 
clergy competent to incur a legal debt. Of course they declared them 
legally entitled to the property which their power of incurring the 
debt and mortgaging the estate implied; recognizing the rights of 
those persecuted citizens, in the very act in which they were thus 
grossly violated. 

If, as I said, any persons are to make good deficiencies to the pub- 
lic creditor, besides the public at large, they must be those who 
managed the agreement. Why therefore are not the estates of all 
the comptrollers-general confiscated? 24 Why not those of the long 
succession of ministers, financiers, and bankers who have been 
enriched whilst the nation was impoverished by their dealings and 
their counsels? Why is not the estate of M. Laborde declared for- 
feited rather than of the archbishop of Paris, who has had nothing 
to do in the creation or in the jobbing of the public funds? Or, if 
you must confiscate old landed estates in favour of the money- 
jobbers, why is the penalty confined to one description? I do not 
know whether the expenses of the Duke de Choiseul have left any- 
thing of the infinite sums which he had derived from the bounty 
of his master, during the transactions of a reign which contributed 
largely by every species of prodigality in war and peace, to the pres- 
ent debt of France. If any such remains, why is not this confiscated ? 
I remember to have been in Paris during the time of the old gov- 
ernment. I was there just after the Duke d'Aiguillon had been 
snatched (as it was generally thought) from the block by the hand 
of a protecting despotism. He was a minister, and had some con- 
cern in the affairs of that prodigal period. Why do I not see his 
estate delivered up to the municipalities in which it is situated? 
The noble family of Noailles have long been servants (meritorious 
servants I admit) to the crown of France, and have had of course 

24 All have been confiscated in their turn. 



250 EDMUND BURKE 

some share in its bounties. Why do I hear nothing of the application 
of their estates to the public debt? Why is the estate of the Duke de 
Rochefoucault more sacred than that of the Cardinal de Rochefou- 
cault? The former is, I doubt not, a worthy person; and (if it were 
not a sort of profaneness to talk of the use, as affecting the title to 
the property) he makes a good use of his revenues; but it is no 
disrespect to him to say, what authentic information well warrants 
me in saying, that the use made of a property equally valid, by his 
brother 25 the cardinal archbishop of Rouen, was far more laudable 
and far more public-spirited. Can one hear of the proscription of 
such persons, and the confiscation of their effects, without indigna- 
tion and horror? He is not a man who does not feel such emotions 
on such occasions. He does not deserve the name of a free-man 
who will not express them. 

Few barbarous conquerors have ever made so terrible a revolution 
in property. None of the heads of the Roman factions, when they 
established "crudelem illam hastam" in all their auctions of rapine, 
have ever set up to sale the goods of the conquered citizen to 
such an enormous amount. It must be allowed in favour of those 
tyrants of antiquity, that what was done by them could hardly be 
said to be done in cold blood. Their passions were inflamed, their 
tempers soured, their understandings confused, with the spirit of 
revenge, with the innumerable reciprocated and recent inflictions 
and retaliations of blood and rapine. They were driven beyond all 
bounds of moderation by the apprehension of the return of power 
with the return of property, to the families of those they had injured 
beyond all hope of forgiveness. 

These Roman confiscators, who were yet only in the elements of 
tyranny, and were not instructed in the rights of men to exercise 
all sorts of cruelties on each other without provocation, thought it 
necessary to spread a sort of colour over their injustice. They con- 
sidered the vanquished party as composed of traitors who had 
borne arms, or otherwise had acted with hostility, against the com- 
monwealth. They regarded them as persons who had forfeited their 
property by their crimes. With you, in your improved state of the 

25 Not his brother, nor any near relation; but this mistake does not affect the 
argument. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 25! 

human mind, there was no such formality. You seized upon five 
millions sterling of annual rent, and turned forty or fifty thousand 
human creatures out of their houses, because "such was your pleas- 
ure." The tyrant Harry the Eighth of England, as he was not better 
enlightened than the Roman Mariuses and Syllas, and had not 
studied in your new schools, did not know what an effectual instru- 
ment of despotism was to be found in that grand magazine of of- 
fensive weapons, the rights of men. When he resolved to rob the 
abbeys, as the club of the Jacobins have robbed all the ecclesiastics, 
he began by setting on foot a commission to examine into the crimes 
and abuses which prevailed in those communities. As it might be 
expected, his commission reported truths, exaggerations, and false- 
hoods. But truly or falsely, it reported abuses and offences. How- 
ever, as abuses might be corrected, as every crime of persons does 
not infer a forfeiture with regard to communities, and as property, 
in that dark age, was not discovered to be a creature of prejudice, 
all those abuses (and there were enow of them) were hardly thought 
sufficient ground for such a confiscation as it was for his purpose 
to make. He therefore procured the formal surrender of these es- 
tates. All these operose proceedings were adopted by one of the 
most decided tyrants in the rolls of history, as necessary prelimi- 
naries, before he could venture, by bribing the members of his two 
servile houses with a share of the spoil, and holding out to them 
an eternal immunity from taxation, to demand a confirmation of 
his iniquitous proceedings by an act of Parliament. Had fate re- 
served him to our times, four technical terms would have done his 
business, and saved him all this trouble; he needed nothing more 
than one short form of incantation "Philosophy, Light, Liberality, 
the Rights of Men!' 

I can say nothing in praise of those acts of tyranny, which no 
voice has hitherto ever commended under any of their false colours; 
yet in these false colours an homage was paid by despotism to justice. 
The power which was above all fear and all remorse was not set 
above all shame. Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly 
extinguished in the heart; nor will moderation be utterly exiled 
from the minds of tyrants. 

I believe every honest man sympathizes in his reflections with our 



252 EDMUND BURKE 

political poet on that occasion, and will pray to avert the omen 
whenever these acts of rapacious despotism present themselves to 
his view or his imagination: 

"May no such storm 
Fall on our times, where ruin must reform. 
Tell me (my Muse) what monstrous dire offence, 
What crimes could any Christian king incense 
To such a rage? Was 't luxury, or lust? 
Was he so temperate, so chaste, so just? 
Were these their crimes ? they were his own much more, 
But wealth is crime enough to him that's poor." 26 

This same wealth, which is at all times treason and lese nation 
to indigent and rapacious despotism, under all modes of polity, was 

26 The rest of the passage is this 

"Who having spent the treasures of his crown, 

Condemns their luxury to feed his own. 

And yet this act, to varnish o'er the shame 

Of sacrilege, must bear devotion's name. 

No crime so bold, but would be understood 

A real, or at least a seeming good; 

Who fears not to do ill, yet fears the name, 

And, free from conscience, is a slave to fame. 

Thus he the church at once protects, and spoils; 

But princes' swords are sharper than their styles. 

And thus to th' ages past he makes amends, 

Their charity destroys, their faith defends. 

Then did religion in a lazy cell, 

In empty aery contemplation dwell; 

And, like the Hock, unmoved lay; but ours, 

As much too active, like the stork devours. 

Is there no temperate region can be known, 

Betwixt their frigid and our torrid zone? 

Could we not wake from that lethargic dream, 

But to be restless in a worse extreme? 

And for that lethargy was there no cure, 

But to be cast into a calenture; 

Can knowledge have no bound, but must advance 

So far, to make us wish for ignorance? 

And rather in the dark to grope our way, 

Than, led by a false guide, to err by day? 

Who sees these dismal heaps, but would demand, 

What barbarous invader sacked the land? 

But when he hears, no Goth, no Turk did bring 

This desolation, but a Christian king; 

When nothing, but the name of zeal, appears 

'Twixt our best actions and the worst of theirs, 

What does he think our sacrilege would spare, 

When such th' effects of our devotion are?" 

COOPER'S HILL, by SIR JOHN DENHAM. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 253 

your temptation to violate property, law, and religion, united in 
one object. But was the state of France so wretched and undone, 
that no other recourse but rapine remained to preserve its existence ? 
On this point I wish to receive some information. When the states 
met, was the condition of the finances of France such, that, after 
economizing on principles of justice and mercy through all depart- 
ments, no fair repartition of burthens upon all the orders could possi- 
bly restore them? If such an equal imposition would have been 
sufficient, you well know it might easily have been made. M. 
Necker, in the budget which he laid before the orders assembled at 
Versailles, made a detailed exposition of the state of the French 
nation. 27 

If we give credit to him, it was not necessary to have recourse to 
any new impositions whatsoever, to put the receipts of France on a 
balance with its expenses. He stated the permanent charges of all 
descriptions, including the interest of a new loan of four hundred 
millions, at 531,444,000 livres; the fixed revenue at 475,294,000, mak- 
ing the deficiency 56,150,000, or short of ,2,200,000 sterling. But to 
balance it, he brought forward savings and improvements of reve- 
nue (considered as entirely certain) to rather more than the amount 
of that deficiency; and he concludes with these emphatical words, 
(p. 39,) "Quel pays, Messieurs, que celui, ou, sans impots et avec 
de simples objets inappercus, on peut faire disparoitre un deficit 
qui a fait tant de bruit en Europe." As to the reimbursement, the 
sinking of debt, and the other great objects of public credit and 
political arrangement indicated in Mons. Necker's speech, no doubt 
could be entertained, but that a very moderate and proportioned 
assessment on the citizens without distinction would have provided 
for all of them to the fullest extent of their demand. 

If this representation of Mons. Necker was false, then the Assem- 
bly are in the highest degree culpable for having forced the king to 
accept as his minister, and since the king's deposition, for having 
employed, as their minister, a man who had been capable of abus- 
ing so notoriously the confidence of his master and their own; in a 
matter too of the highest moment, and directly appertaining to his 

27 Rapport de Mons. le Directeur-Ge'ne'ral des Finances, fait par ordre du Roi a 
Versailles. Mai 5, 1789. 



254 EDMUND BURKE 

particular office. But if the representation was exact, (as having al- 
ways, along with you, conceived a high degree of respect for M. 
Necker, I make no doubt it was,) then what can be said in favour 
of those, who, instead of moderate, reasonable, and general con- 
tribution, have in cold blood, and impelled by no necessity, had 
recourse to a partial and cruel confiscation? 

Was that contribution refused on a pretext of privilege, either on 
the part of the clergy, or on that of the nobility ? No, certainly. As 
to the clergy, they even ran before the wishes of the third order. 
Previous to the meeting of the states, they had in all their instruc- 
tions expressly directed their deputies to renounce every immunity, 
which put them upon a footing distinct from the condition of their 
fellow-subjects. In this renunciation the clergy were even more 
explicit than the nobility. 

But let us suppose that the deficiency had remained at the fifty-six 
millions, (or , 2,200,000 sterling), as at first stated by M. Necker. 
Let us allow that all the resources he opposed to that deficiency 
were impudent and groundless fictions; and that the Assembly (or 
their lords of articles 28 at the Jacobins) were from thence justified in 
laying the whole burthen of that deficiency on the clergy, yet al- 
lowing all this, a necessity of ^2,200,000 sterling will not support a 
confiscation to the amount of five millions. The imposition of 
,2,200,000 on the clergy, as partial, would have been oppressive and 
unjust, but it would not have been altogether ruinous to those on 
whom it was imposed; and therefore it would not have answered 
the real purpose of the managers. 

Perhaps persons unacquainted with the state of France, on hear- 
ing the clergy and the noblesse were privileged in point of taxation, 
may be led to imagine, that, previous to the Revolution, these bodies 
had contributed nothing to the state. This is a great mistake. They 
certainly did not contribute equally with each other, nor either of 
them equally with the commons. They both, however, contributed 
largely. Neither nobility nor clergy enjoyed any exemption from 
the excise on consumable commodities, from duties of custom, or 
from any of the other numerous indirect impositions, which in 

28 In the constitution of Scotland, during the Stuart reigns, a committee sat for pre- 
paring bills; and none could pass, but those previously approved by them. This 
committee was called lords of articles. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 255 

France, as well as here, make so very large a proportion of all 
payments to the public. The noblesse paid the capitation. They 
paid also a land-tax, called the twentieth penny, to the height some- 
times of three, sometimes of four, shillings in the pound; both of 
them direct impositions of no light nature, and no trivial produce. 
The clergy of the provinces annexed by conquest to France, (which 
in extent make about an eighth part of the whole, but in wealth a 
much larger proportion,) paid likewise to the capitation and the 
twentieth penny, at the rate paid by the nobility. The clergy in the 
old provinces did not pay the capitation; but they had redeemed 
themselves at the expense of about 24 millions, or a little more than 
a million sterling. They were exempted from the twentieths: but 
then they made free gifts; they contracted debts for the state; and 
they were subject to some other charges, the whole computed at 
about a thirteenth part of their clear income. They ought to have 
paid annually about forty thousand pounds more, to put them on a 
par with the contribution of the nobility. 

When the terrors of this tremendous proscription hung over the 
clergy, they made an offer of a contribution, through the archbishop 
of Aix, which, for its extravagance, ought not to have been accepted. 
But it was evidently and obviously more advantageous to the public 
creditor than anything which could rationally be promised by the 
confiscation. Why was it not accepted? The reason is plain There 
was no desire that the church should be brought to serve the state. 
The service of the state was made a pretext to destroy the church. 
In their way to the destruction of the church they would not scruple 
to destroy their country: and they have destroyed it. One great 
end in the project would have been defeated if the plan of extor- 
tion had been adopted in lieu of the scheme of confiscation. The 
new landed interest connected with the new republic, and connected 
with it for its very being, could not have been created. This was 
among the reasons why that extravagant ransom was not accepted. 

The madness of the project of confiscation, on the plan that was 
first pretended, soon became apparent. To bring this unwieldy 
mass of landed property, enlarged by the confiscation of all the vast 
landed domain of the crown, at once into market, was obviously to 
defeat the profits proposed by the confiscation, by depreciating the 



256 EDMUND BURKE 

value of those lands, and indeed of all the landed estates throughout 
France. Such a sudden diversion of all its circulating money from 
trade to land, must be an additional mischief. What step was taken? 
Did the Assembly, on becoming sensible of the inevitable ill effects 
of their projected sale, revert to the offers of the clergy? No dis- 
tress could oblige them to travel in a course which was disgraced 
by any appearance of justice. Giving over all hopes from a general 
immediate sale, another project seems to have succeeded. They 
proposed to take stock in exchange for the church lands. In that 
project great difficulties arose in equalizing the objects to be ex- 
changed. Other obstacles also presented themselves, which threw 
them back again upon some project of sale. The municipalities had 
taken an alarm. They would not hear of transferring the whole 
plunder of the kingdom to the stock-holders in Paris. Many of 
those municipalities had been (upon system) reduced to the most 
deplorable indigence. Money was nowhere to be seen. They were 
therefore led to the point that was so ardently desired. They panted 
for a currency of any kind which might revive their perishing in- 
dustry. The municipalities were then to be admitted to a share in 
the spoil, which evidently rendered the first scheme (if ever it had 
been seriously entertained) altogether impracticable. Public exi- 
gencies pressed upon all sides. The minister of finance reiterated his 
call for supply with a most urgent, anxious, and boding voice. Thus 
pressed on all sides, instead of the first plan of converting their 
bankers into bishops and abbots, instead of paying the old debt, they 
contracted a new debt, at 3 per cent., creating a new paper cur- 
rency, founded on an eventual sale of the church lands. They issued 
this paper currency to satisfy in the first instance chiefly the demands 
made upon them by the ban\ of discount, the great machine, or 
paper-mill, of their fictitious wealth. 

The spoil of the church was now become the only resource of all 
their operations in finance, the vital principle of all their politics, 
the sole security for the existence of their power. It was necessary 
by all, even the most violent means, to put every individual on the 
same bottom, and to bind the nation in one guilty interest to up- 
hold this act, and the authority of those by whom it was done. In 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 257 

order to force the most reluctant into a participation of their pillage, 
they rendered their paper circulation compulsory in all payments. 
Those who consider the general tendency of their schemes to this 
one object as a centre, and a centre from which afterwards all their 
measures radiate, will not think that I dwell too long upon this part 
of the proceedings of the National Assembly. 

To cut off all appearance of connexion between the crown and 
public justice, and to bring the whole under implicit obedience to 
the dictators in Paris, the old independent judicature of the parlia- 
ments, with all its merits, and all its faults, was wholly abolished. 
Whilst the parliaments existed, it was evident that the people might 
some time or other come to resort to them, and rally under the 
standard of their ancient laws. It became however a matter of 
consideration that the magistrates and officers, in the courts now 
abolished, had purchased their places at a very high rate, for which, 
as well as for the duty they performed, they received but a very low 
return of interest. Simple confiscation is a boon only for the clergy; 
to the lawyers some appearances of equity are to be observed; 
and they are to receive compensation to an immense amount. Their 
compensation becomes part of the national debt, for the liquidation 
of which there is the one exhaustless fund. The lawyers are to 
obtain their compensation in the new church paper, which is to 
march with the new principles of judicature and legislature. The 
dismissed magistrates are to take their share of martyrdom with the 
ecclesiastics, or to receive their own property from such a fund, and 
in such a manner, as all those, who have been seasoned with the 
ancient principles of jurisprudence, and had been the sworn guard- 
ians of property, must look upon with horror. Even the clergy 
are to receive their miserable allowance out of the depreciated paper, 
which is stamped with the indelible character of sacrilege, and with 
the symbols of their own ruin, or they must starve. So violent an 
outrage upon credit, property, and liberty, as this compulsory paper 
currency, has seldom been exhibited by the alliance of bankruptcy 
and tyranny, at any time, or in any nation. 

In the course of all these operations, at length comes out the grand 
arcanum; that in reality, and in a fair sense, the lands of the church 



258 EDMUND BURKE 

(so far as anything certain can be gathered from their proceedings) 
are not to be sold at all. By the late resolutions of the National As- 
sembly, they are indeed to be delivered to the highest bidder. But 
it is to be observed, that a certain portion only of the purchase money 
is to be laid down. A period of twelve years is to be given for the 
payment of the rest. The philosophic purchasers are therefore, on 
payment of a sort of fine, to be put instantly into possession of the 
estate. It becomes in some respects a sort of gift to them; to be held 
on the feudal tenure of zeal to the new establishment. This project 
is evidently to let in a body of purchasers without money. The con- 
sequence will be, that these purchasers, or rather grantees, will pay, 
not only from the rents as they accrue, which might as well be re- 
ceived by the state, but from the spoil of the materials of buildings, 
from waste in woods, and from whatever money, by hands habitu- 
ated to the gripings of usury, they can wring from the miserable 
peasant. He is to be delivered over to the mercenary and arbitrary 
discretion of men, who will be stimulated to every species of extortion 
by the growing demands on the growing profits of an estate held 
under the precarious settlement of a new political system. 

When all the frauds, impostures, violences, rapines, burnings, 
murders, confiscations, compulsory paper currencies, and every de- 
scription of tyranny and cruelty employed to bring about and to 
uphold this Revolution, have their natural effect, that is, to shock the 
moral sentiments of all virtuous and sober minds, the abettors of this 
philosophic system immediately strain their throats in a declama- 
tion against the old monarchical government of France. When they 
have rendered that deposed power sufficiently black, they then pro- 
ceed in argument, as if all those who disapprove of their new abuses 
must of course be partisans of the old; that those who reprobate 
their crude and violent schemes of liberty ought to be treated as 
advocates for servitude. I admit that their necessities do compel 
them to this base and contemptible fraud. Nothing can reconcile 
men to their proceedings and projects, but the supposition that 
there is no third option between them and some tyranny as odious 
as can be furnished by the records of history, or by the invention 
of poets. This prattling of theirs hardly deserves the name of soph- 
istry. It is nothing but plain impudence. Have these gentlemen 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 259 

never heard, in the whole circle of the worlds of theory and prac- 
tice, of anything between the despotism of the monarch and the 
despotism of the multitude? Have they never heard of a monarchy 
directed by laws, controlled and balanced by the great hereditary 
wealth and hereditary dignity of a nation; and both again controlled 
by a judicious check from the reason and feeling of the people at 
large, acting by a suitable and permanent organ? Is it then impos- 
sible that a man may be found, who, without criminal ill intention, 
or pitiable absurdity, shall prefer such a mixed and tempered govern- 
ment to either of the extremes; and who may repute that nation to be 
destitute of all wisdom and of all virtue, which, having in its choice 
to obtain such a government with ease, or rather to confirm it when 
actually possessed, thought proper to commit a thousand crimes, and 
to subject their country to a thousand evils, in order to avoid it? Is 
it then a truth so universally acknowledged, that a pure democracy 
is the only tolerable form into which human society can be thrown, 
that a man is not permitted to hesitate about its merits, without the 
suspicion of being a friend to tyranny, that is, of being a foe to 
mankind ? 

I do not know under what description to class the present ruling 
authority in France. It affects to be a pure democracy, though I 
think it in a direct train of becoming shortly a mischievous and ig- 
noble oligarchy. But for the present I admit it to be a contrivance of 
the nature and effect of what it pretends to. I reprobate no form of 
government merely upon abstract principles. There may be situa- 
tions in which the purely democratic form will become necessary. 
There may be some (very few, and very particularly circumstanced) 
where it would be clearly desirable. This I do not take to be the 
case of France, or of any other great country. Until now, we have 
seen no examples of considerable democracies. The ancients were 
better acquainted with them. Not being wholly unread in the au- 
thors, who had seen the most of those constitutions, and who best 
understood them, I cannot help concurring with their opinion, that 
an absolute democracy, no more than absolute monarchy, is to be 
reckoned among the legitimate forms of government. They think it 
rather the corruption and degeneracy, than the sound constitution of 
a republic. If I recollect rightly, Aristotle observes, that a democracy 



260 EDMUND BURKE 

has many striking points of resemblance with a tyranny. 29 Of this 
I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of the citizens is 
capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, 
whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often 
must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater 
numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can 
almost ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single sceptre. 
In such a popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much 
more deplorable condition than in any other. Under a cruel prince 
they have the balmy compassion of mankind to assuage the smart of 
their wounds; they have the plaudits of the people to animate their 
generous constancy under their sufferings: but those who are sub- 
jected to wrong under multitudes, are deprived of all external con- 
solation. They seem deserted by mankind, overpowered by a con- 
spiracy of their whole species. 

But admitting democracy not to have that inevitable tendency to 
party tyranny, which I suppose it to have, and admitting it to pos- 
sess as much good in it when unmixed, as I am sure it possesses 
when compounded with other forms; does monarchy, on its part, 
contain nothing at all to recommend it ? I do not often quote Boling- 
broke, nor have his works in general left any permanent impression 
on my mind. He is a presumptuous and a superficial writer. But 
he has one observation, which, in my opinion, is not without depth 
and solidity. He says, that he prefers a monarchy to other govern- 
ments; because you can better ingraft any description of republic on 
a monarchy than anything of monarchy upon the republican forms. 
I think him perfectly in the right. The fact is so historically; and it 
agrees well with the speculation. 

29 When I wrote this I quoted from memory, after many years had elapsed from 
my reading the passage. A learned friend has found it, and it is as follows: 

Td rjdos rd avrd, KO! a/x</>co 5e<T7TOTi/cd T&V /3e\Ti6i>(>w, /cat TO. i/^ierjuaTa, Hxrirep e/cet 
ra iTrtray/iaTa' ai 6 577/1 crycoyos xat 6 /c6Xa, oi avrol KCU dpaXoyor ttal /naXierra 
CKarepot irap' &cctTcpois lo-xfoutrw, ol fj.lv KoXa/ces Trapd rvpapvois, oi 61 drjuaycoyol wapa 
rots 8rinois rots TOIOITOIS. 

"The ethical character is the same; both exercise despotism over the better class of 
citizens; and decrees are in the one, what ordinances and arrts are in the other: the 
demagogue too, and the court favourite, are not unfrequently the same identical 
men, and always bear a close analogy; and these have the principal power, each in their 
respective forms of government, favourites with the absolute monarch, and dema- 
gogues with a people such as I have described." Arist. Politic, lib. iv. cap. 4. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 26 1 

I know how easy a topic it is to dwell on the faults of departed 
greatness. By a revolution in the state, the fawning sycophant of 
yesterday is converted into the austere critic of the present hour. But 
steady, independent minds, when they have an object of so serious a 
concern to mankind as government under their contemplation, will 
disdain to assume the part of satirists and declaimers. They will 
judge of human institutions as they do of human characters. They 
will sort out the good from the evil, which is mixed in mortal 
institutions, as it is in mortal men. 

Your government in France, though usually, and I think justly, 
reputed the best of the unqualified or ill-qualified monarchies, was 
still full of abuses. These abuses accumulated in a length of time, 
as they must accumulate in every monarchy not under the constant 
inspection of a popular representative. I am no stranger to the faults 
and defects of the subverted government of France; and I think I am 
not inclined by nature or policy to make a panegyric upon anything 
which is a just and natural object of censure. But the question is not 
now of the vices of that monarchy, but of its existence. Is it then 
true, that the French government was such as to be incapable or 
undeserving of reform; so that it was of absolute necessity that the 
whole fabric should be at once pulled down, and the area cleared 
for the erection of a theoretic, experimental edifice in its place? All 
France was of a different opinion in the beginning of the year 1789. 
The instructions to the representatives to the states-general, from 
every district in that kingdom, were filled with projects for the refor- 
mation of that government, without the remotest suggestion of a 
design to destroy it. Had such a design been even insinuated, I be- 
lieve there would have been but one voice, and that voice for rejecting 
it with scorn and horror. Men have been sometimes led by degrees, 
sometimes hurried, into things of which, if they could have seen the 
whole together, they never would have permitted the most remote 
approach. When those instructions were given, there was no ques- 
tion but that abuses existed, and that they demanded a reform; nor 
is there now. In the interval between the instructions and the Revo- 
lution, things changed their shape; and, in consequence of that 
change, the true question at present is, Whether those who would 
have reformed, or those who have destroyed, are in the right? 



262 EDMUND BURKE 

To hear some men speak of the late monarchy of France, you 
would imagine that they were talking of Persia bleeding under the 
ferocious sword of Tahmas Kouli Khan; or at least describing the 
barbarous anarchic despotism of Turkey, where the finest countries 
in the most genial climates in the world are wasted by peace more 
than any countries have been worried by war; where arts are un- 
known, where manufactures languish, where science is extinguished, 
where agriculture decays, where the human race itself melts away 
and perishes under the eye of the observer. Was this the case of 
France? I have no way of determining the question but by refer- 
ence to facts. Facts do not support this resemblance. Along with 
much evil, there is some good in monarchy itself; and some cor- 
rective to its evil from religion, from laws, from manners, from 
opinions, the French monarchy must have received; which ren- 
dered it (though by no means a free, and therefore by no means 
a good, constitution) a despotism rather in appearance than in 
reality. 

Among the standards upon which the effects of government on 
any country are to be estimated, I must consider the state of its 
population as not the least certain. No country in which population 
flourishes, and is in progressive improvement, can be under a very 
mischievous government. About sixty years ago, the Intendants of 
the generalities of France made, with other matters, a report of the 
population of their several districts. I have not the books, which are 
very voluminous, by me, nor do I know where to procure them, (I 
am obliged to speak by memory, and therefore the less positively,) 
but I think the population of France was by them, even at that period, 
estimated at twenty-two millions of souls. At the end of the last 
century it had been generally calculated at eighteen. On either of 
these estimations, France was not ill peopled. M. Necker, who is 
an authority for his own time at least equal to the Intendants for 
theirs, reckons, and upon apparently sure principles, the people of 
France, in the year 1780, at twenty-four millions six hundred and 
seventy thousand. But was this the probable ultimate term under 
the old establishment? Dr. Price is of opinion, that the growth of 
population in France was by no means at its acme in that year. I 
certainly defer to Dr. Price's authority a good deal more in these 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 263 

speculations, than I do in his general politics. This gentleman, 
taking ground on M. Necker's data, is very confident that since the 
period of that minister's calculation, the French population has in- 
creased rapidly; so rapidly, that in the year 1789 he will not consent 
to rate the people of that kingdom at a lower number than thirty 
millions. After abating much (and much I think ought to be abated) 
from the sanguine calculation of Dr. Price, I have no doubt that 
the population of France did increase considerably during this later 
period : but supposing that it increased to nothing more than will be 
sufficient to complete the twenty-four millions six hundred and sev- 
enty thousand to twenty-five millions, still a population of twenty- 
five millions, and that in an increasing progress, on a space of about 
twenty-seven thousand square leagues, is immense. It is, for instance, 
a good deal more than the proportionable population of this island, 
or even than that of England, the best peopled part of the united 
kingdom. 

It is not universally true, that France is a fertile country. Con- 
siderable tracts of it are barren, and labour under other natural dis- 
advantages. In the portions of that territory where things are more 
favourable, as far as I am able to discover, the numbers of the people 
correspond to the indulgence of nature. 30 The Generality of Lisle 
(this I admit is the strongest example) upon an extent of four hun- 
dred and four leagues and a half, about ten years ago, contained 
seven hundred and thirty-four thousand six hundred souls, which 
is one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two inhabitants to each 
square league. The middle term for the rest of France is about nine 
hundred inhabitants to the same admeasurement. 

I do not attribute this population to the deposed government; 
because I do not like to compliment the contrivances of men with 
what is due in a great degree to the bounty of Providence. But that 
decried government could not have obstructed, most probably it 
favoured, the operation of those causes, (whatever they were,) 
whether of nature in the soil, or habits of industry among the people, 
which has produced so large a number of the species throughout that 
whole kingdom, and exhibited in some particular places such prodi- 
gies of population. I never will suppose that fabric of a state to be 

30 De I'Administration des Finances de la France, par Mons. Necker, vol. i. p. 288. 



264 EDMUND BURKE 

the worst of all political institutions, which, by experience, is found 
to contain a principle favourable (however latent it may be) to the 
increase of mankind. 

The wealth of a country is another, and no contemptible standard, 
by which we may judge whether, on the whole, a government be 
protecting or destructive. France far exceeds England in the multi- 
tude of her people; but I apprehend that her comparative wealth is 
much inferior to ours; that it is not so equal in the distribution, nor 
so ready in the circulation. I believe the difference in the form of the 
two governments to be amongst the causes of this advantage on the 
side of England. I speak of England, not of the whole British 
dominions; which, if compared with those of France, will, in some 
degree, weaken the comparative rate of wealth upon our side. But 
that wealth, which will not endure a comparison with the riches of 
England, may constitute a very respectable degree of opulence. M. 
Necker's book published in I785, 31 contains an accurate and inter- 
esting collection of facts relative to public economy and to political 
arithmetic; and his speculations on the subject are in general wise 
and liberal. In that work he gives an idea of the state of France, 
very remote from the portrait of a country whose government was 
a perfect grievance, an absolute evil, admitting no cure but through 
the violent and uncertain remedy of a total revolution. He affirms, 
that from the year 1726 to the year 1784, there was coined at the 
mint of France, in the species of gold and silver, to the amount of 
about one hundred millions of pounds sterling. 32 

It is impossible that M. Necker should be mistaken in the amount 
of the bullion which has been coined in the mint. It is a matter of 
official record. The reasonings of this able financier, concerning the 
quantity of gold and silver which remained for circulation, when he 
wrote in 1785, that is, about four years before the deposition and im- 
prisonment of the French king, are not of equal certainty; but they 
are laid on grounds so apparently solid, that it is not easy to refuse 
a considerable degree of assent to his calculation. He calculates the 
numeraire, or what we call specie, then actually existing in France, 
at about eighty-eight millions of the same English money. A great 
accumulation of wealth for one country, large as that country is! 

31 De 1'Administration des Finances de la France, par Mons. Necker. 
32 Vol. iii. chap. 8 and chap. 9. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 265 

M. Necker was so far from considering this influx of wealth as likely 
to cease, when he wrote in 1785, that he presumes upon a future 
annual increase of two per cent, upon the money brought into France 
during the periods from which he computed. 

Some adequate cause must have originally introduced all the 
money coined at its mint into that kingdom; and some cause as 
operative must have kept at home, or returned into its bosom, such 
a vast flood of treasure as M. Necker calculates to remain for domes- 
tic circulation. Suppose any reasonable deductions from M. Necker's 
computation, the remainder must still amount to an immense sum. 
Causes thus powerful to acquire, and to retain, cannot be found in 
discouraged industry, insecure property, and a positively destructive 
government. Indeed, when I consider the face of the kingdom of 
France; the multitude and opulence of her cities; the useful mag- 
nificence of her spacious high roads and bridges; the opportunity of 
her artificial canals and navigations opening the conveniences of 
maritime communication through a solid continent of so immense 
an extent; when I turn my eyes to the stupendous works of her ports 
and harbours, and to her whole naval apparatus, whether for war 
or trade; when I bring before my view the number of her fortifi- 
cations, constructed with so bold and masterly a skill, and made 
and maintained at so prodigious a charge, presenting an armed front 
and impenetrable barrier to her enemies upon every side; when I 
recollect how very small a part of that extensive region is without 
cultivation, and to what complete perfection the culture of many of 
the best productions of the earth have been brought in France; when 
I reflect on the excellence of her manufactures and fabrics, second 
to none but ours, and in some particulars not second; when I con- 
template the grand foundations of charity, public and private; when 
I survey the state of all the arts that beautify and polish life; when I 
reckon the men she has bred for extending her fame in war, her able 
statesmen, the multitude of her profound lawyers and theologians, 
her philosophers, her critics, her historians and antiquaries, her poets 
and her orators, sacred and profane; I behold in all this something 
which awes and commands the imagination, which checks the mind 
on the brink of precipitate and indiscriminate censure, and which 
demands that we should very seriously examine, what and how great 
are the latent vices that could authorize us at once to level so spa- 



266 EDMUND BURKE 

cious a fabric with the ground. I do not recognize in this view of 
things, the despotism of Turkey. Nor do I discern the character of 
a government, that has been, on the whole, so oppressive, or so 
corrupt, or so negligent, as to be utterly unfit for all reformation. I 
must think such a government well deserved to have its excellencies 
heightened, its faults corrected, and its capacities improved into a 
British constitution. 

Whoever has examined into the proceedings of that deposed gov- 
ernment for several years back, cannot fail to have observed, amidst 
the inconstancy and fluctuation natural to courts, an earnest en- 
deavour towards the prosperity and improvement of the country; he 
must admit, that it had long been employed, in some instances 
wholly to remove, in many considerably to correct, the abusive prac- 
tices and usages that had prevailed in the state; and that even the 
unlimited power of the sovereign over the persons of his subjects, 
inconsistent, as undoubtedly it was, with law and liberty, had yet 
been every day growing more mitigated in the exercise. So far from 
refusing itself to reformation, that government was open, with a 
censurable degree of facility, to all sorts of projects and projectors 
on the subject. Rather too much countenance was given to the spirit 
of innovation, which soon was turned against those who fostered it, 
and ended in their ruin. It is but cold, and no very flattering, justice 
to that fallen monarchy, to say, that, for many years, it trespassed 
more by levity and want of judgment in several of its schemes, than 
from any defect in diligence or in public spirit. To compare the gov- 
ernment of France for the last fifteen or sixteen years with wise and 
well-constituted establishments during that, or during any period, is 
not to act with fairness. But if in point of prodigality in the ex- 
penditure of money, or in point of rigour in the exercise of power, it 
be compared with any of the former reigns, I believe candid judges 
will give little credit to the good intentions of those who dwell per- 
petually on the donations to favourites, or on the expenses of the 
court, or on the horrors of the Bastile, in the reign of Louis the Six- 
teenth. 33 

3 3 The world is obliged to M. de Calonne for the pains he has taken to refute 
the scandalous exaggerations relative to some of the royal expenses, and to detect 
the fallacious account given of pensions, for the wicked purpose of provoking the 
populace to all sorts of crimes. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 267 

Whether the system, if it deserves such a name, now built on the 
ruins of that ancient monarchy, will be able to give a better account 
of the population and wealth of the country, which it has taken under 
its care, is a matter very doubtful. Instead of improving by the 
change, I apprehend that a long series of years must be told, before 
it can recover in any degree the effects of this philosophic revolution, 
and before the nation can be replaced on its former footing. If Dr. 
Price should think fit, a few years hence, to favour us with an esti- 
mate of the population of France, he will hardly be able to make up 
his tale of thirty millions of souls, as computed in 1789, or the As- 
sembly's computation of twenty-six millions of that year; or even 
M. Necker's twenty-five millions in 1780. I hear that there are con- 
siderable emigrations from France; and that many, quitting that 
voluptuous climate, and that seductive Circean liberty, have taken 
refuge in the frozen regions, and under the British despotism, of 
Canada. 

In the present disappearance of coin, no person could think it 
the same country, in which the present minister of the finances has 
been able to discover fourscore millions sterling in specie. From its 
general aspect one would conclude that it had been for some time 
past under the special direction of the learned academicians of Laputa 
and Balnibarbi. 34 Already the population of Paris has so declined, that: 
M. Necker stated to the National Assembly the provision to be made 
for its subsistence at a fifth less than what had formerly been found 
requisite. 35 It is said (and I have never heard it contradicted) that a 
hundred thousand people are out of employment in that city, though 
it is become the seat of the imprisoned court and National Assembly. 
Nothing, I am credibly informed, can exceed the shocking and dis- 
gusting spectacle of mendicancy displayed in that capital. Indeed the 
votes of the National Assembly leave no doubt of the fact. They 
have lately appointed a standing committee of mendicancy. They are 
contriving at once a vigorous police on this subject, and, for the first 
time, the imposition of a tax to maintain the poor, for whose present 
relief great sums appear on the face of the public accounts of the 

34 See Gulliver's Travels for the idea of countries governed by philosophers. 

35 M. de Calonne states the falling off of the population of Paris as far more con- 
siderable; and it may be so, since the period of M. Necker's calculation. 



268 EDMUND BURKE 

year. 36 In the meantime the leaders of the legislative clubs and coffee- 
houses are intoxicated with admiration at their own wisdom and 
ability. They speak with the most sovereign contempt of the rest of 
the world. They tell the people, to comfort them in the rags with 
which they have clothed them, that they are a nation of philosophers; 
and sometimes, by all the arts of quackish parade, by show, tumult, 
and bustle, sometimes by the alarms of plots and invasions, they 
attempt to drown the cries of indigence, and to divert the eyes of the 
observer from the ruin and wretchedness of the state. A brave 
people will certainly prefer liberty accompanied with a virtuous pov- 
erty to a depraved and wealthy servitude. But before the price of 
comfort and opulence is paid, one ought to be pretty sure it is real 
liberty which is purchased, and that she is to be purchased at no other 
price. I shall always, however, consider that liberty as very equivocal 
in her appearance, which has not wisdom and justice for her com- 
panions; and does not lead prosperity and plenty in her train. 

The advocates for this Revolution, not satisfied with exaggerating 
the vices of their ancient government, strike at the fame of their 
country itself, by painting almost all that could have attracted the 
attention of strangers, I mean their nobility and their clergy, as ob- 
jects of horror. If this were only a libel, there had not been much 
in it. But it has practical consequences. Had your nobility and 
gentry, who formed the great body of your landed men, and the 

36 Travaux de charite pour subvenir au manque de Livres. s. d. 

travail a Paris et dans les provinces .... 3,866,920 161,121 13 4 

Destruction de vagabondage et de la mendicite . 1,671,417 69,642 7 6 

Primes pour 1'importation de grains 5,671,907 236,329 9 2 

Depenses relatives aux subsistances, deduction fait 

des recouvrements qui ont eu lieu . . . .39,871,790 1,661,324 u 8 

Total Liv. 51,082,034 2,128,418 i 8 

When I sent this book to the press, I entertained some doubt concerning the nature 
and extent of the last article in the above accounts, which is only under a general 
head, without any detail. Since then I have seen M. de Calonne's work. I must 
think it a great loss to me that I had not that advantage earlier. M. de Calonne thinks 
this article to be on account of general subsistence; but as he is not able to compre- 
hend how so great a loss as upwards of 1,661,000 sterling could be sustained on the 
difference between the price and the sale of grain, he seems to attribute this enormous 
head of charge to secret expenses of the Revolution. I cannot say anything positively 
on that subject. The reader is capable of judging, by the aggregate of these im- 
mense charges, on the state and condition of France; and the system of public economy 
adopted in that nation. These articles of account produced no inquiry or discussion 
in the National Assembly. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 269 

whole of your military officers, resembled those of Germany, at the 
period when the Hanse-towns were necessitated to confederate 
against the nobles in defence of their property had they been like the 
Orsini and Vitelli in Italy, who used to sally from their fortified 
dens to rob the trader and traveller had they been such as the 
Mamelukes in Egypt, or the Nay res on the coast of Malabar, I do 
admit, that too critical an inquiry might not be advisable into the 
means of freeing the world from such a nuisance. The statues of 
Equity and Mercy might be veiled for a moment. The tenderest 
minds, confounded with the dreadful exigence in which morality 
submits to the suspension of its own rules in favour of its own prin- 
ciples, might turn aside whilst fraud and violence were accomplish- 
ing the destruction of a pretended nobility which disgraced, whilst 
it persecuted, human nature. The persons most abhorrent from 
blood, and treason, and arbitrary confiscation, might remain silent 
spectators of this civil war between the vices. 

But did the privileged nobility who met under the king's precept 
at Versailles, in 1789, or their constituents, deserve to be looked on 
as the Nayres or Mamelukes of this age, or as the Orsini and Vitelli 
of ancient times? If I had then asked the question I should have 
passed for a madman. What have they since done that they were to 
be driven into exile, that their persons should be hunted about, 
mangled, and tortured, their families dispersed, their houses laid in 
ashes, and that their order should be abolished, and the memory of 
it, if possible, extinguished, by ordaining them to change the very 
names by which they were usually known ? Read their instructions 
to their representatives. They breathe the spirit of liberty as warmly, 
and they recommend reformation as strongly, as any other order. 
Their privileges relative to contribution were voluntarily surren- 
dered; as the king, from the beginning, surrendered all pretence to a 
right of taxation. Upon a free constitution there was but one opinion 
in France. The absolute monarchy was at an end. It breathed its last, 
without a groan, without struggle, without convulsion. All the 
struggle, all the dissension, arose afterwards upon the preference of 
a despotic democracy to a government of reciprocal control. The tri- 
umph of the victorious party was over the principles of a British 
constitution. 



270 EDMUND BURKE 

I have observed the affectation, which for many years past, has 
prevailed in Paris even to a degree perfectly childish, of idolizing the 
memory of your Henry the Fourth. If anything could put one out of 
humour with that ornament to the kingly character, it would be this 
overdone style of insidious panegyric. The persons who have worked 
this engine the most busily, are those who have ended their pane- 
gyrics in dethroning his successor and descendant; a man, as good- 
natured, at the least, as Henry the Fourth; altogether as fond of his 
people; and who has done infinitely more to correct the ancient 
vices of the state than that great monarch did, or we are sure he ever 
meant to do. Well it is for his panegyrists that they have not him 
to deal with. For Henry of Navarre was a resolute, active, and poli- 
tic prince. He possessed indeed great humanity and mildness; but 
a humanity and mildness that never stood in the way of his inter- 
ests. He never sought to be loved without putting himself first in a 
condition to be feared. He used soft language with determined con- 
duct. He asserted and maintained his authority in the gross, and 
distributed his acts of concession only in the detail. He spent the 
income of his prerogative nobly; but he took care not to break in 
upon the capital; never abandoning for a moment any of the claims 
which he made under the fundamental laws, nor sparing to shed the 
blood of those who opposed him, often in the field, sometimes upon 
the scaffold. Because he knew how to make his virtues respected by 
the ungrateful, he has merited the praises of those, whom, if they 
had lived in his time, he would have shut up in the Bastile, and 
brought to punishment along with the regicides whom he hanged 
after he had famished Paris into a surrender. 

If these panegyrists are in earnest in their admiration of Henry 
the Fourth, they must remember, that they cannot think more highly 
of him than he did of the noblesse of France; whose virtue, honour, 
courage, patriotism, and loyalty were his constant theme. 

But the nobility of France are degenerated since the days of Henry 
the Fourth. This is possible. But it is more than I can believe to 
be true in any great degree. I do not pretend to know France as 
correctly as some others; but I have endeavoured through my whole 
life to make myself acquainted with human nature; otherwise I 
should be unfit to take even my humble part in the service of man- 
kind. In that study I could not pass by a vast portion of our nature, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 271 

as it appeared modified in a country but twenty-four miles from the 
shore of this island. On my best observation, compared with my 
best inquiries, I found your nobility for the greater part composed 
of men of high spirit, and of a delicate sense of honour, both with 
regard to themselves individually, and with regard to their whole 
corps, over whom they kept, beyond what is common in other coun- 
tries, a censorial eye. They were tolerably well bred; very officious, 
humane, and hospitable; in their conversation frank and open; with 
a good military tone; and reasonably tinctured with literature, par- 
ticularly of the authors in their own language. Many had preten- 
sions far above this description. I speak of those who were gen- 
erally met with. 

As to their behaviour to the inferior classes, they appeared to me 
to comport themselves towards them with good-nature, and with 
something more nearly approaching to familiarity, than is generally 
practised with us in the intercourse between the higher and lower 
ranks of life. To strike any person, even in the most abject condition, 
was a thing in a manner unknown, and would be highly disgraceful. 
Instances of other ill-treatment of the humble part of the commu- 
nity were rare : and as to attacks made upon the property or the per- 
sonal liberty of the commons, I never heard of any whatsoever from 
them; nor, whilst the laws were in vigour under the ancient gov- 
ernment, would such tyranny in subjects have been permitted. As 
men of landed estates, I had no fault to find with their conduct, 
though much to reprehend, and much to wish changed, in many of 
the old tenures. Where the letting of their land was by rent, I could 
not discover that their agreements with their farmers were oppres- 
sive; nor when they were in partnership with the farmer, as often 
was the case, have I heard that they had taken the lion's share. The 
proportions seemed not inequitable. There might be exceptions; 
but certainly they were exceptions only. I have no reason to believe 
that in these respects the landed noblesse of France were worse than 
the landed gentry of this country; certainly in no respect more vexa- 
tious than the landholders, not noble, of their own nation. In cities 
the nobility had no manner of power; in the country very little. 
You know, Sir, that much of the civil government, and the police 
in the most essential parts was not in the hands of that nobility 
which presents itself first to our consideration. The revenue, the 



272 EDMUND BURKE 

system and collection of which were the most grievous parts of the 
French government, was not administered by the men of the sword; 
nor were they answerable for the vices of its principle, or the vexa- 
tions, where any such existed, in its management. 

Denying, as I am well warranted to do, that the nobility had any 
considerable share in the oppression of the people, in cases in which 
real oppression existed, I am ready to admit that they were not with- 
out considerable faults and errors. A foolish imitation of the worst 
part of the manners of England, which impaired their natural char- 
acter, without substituting in its place what perhaps, they meant to 
copy, has certainly rendered them worse than formerly they were. 
Habitual dissoluteness of manners continued beyond the pardonable 
period of life, was more common amongst them than it is with us; 
and it reigned with the less hope of remedy, though possibly with 
something of less mischief by being covered with more exterior 
decorum. They countenanced too much that licentious philosophy, 
which has helped to bring on their ruin. There was another error 
amongst them more fatal. Those of the commons, who approached 
to or exceeded many of the nobility in point of wealth, were not 
fully admitted to the rank and estimation which wealth, in reason 
and good policy, ought to bestow in every country; though I think 
not equally with that of other nobility. The two kinds of aristocracy 
were too punctiliously kept asunder, less so, however, than in Ger- 
many and some other nations. 

This separation, as I have already taken the liberty of suggesting 
to you, I conceive to be one principal cause of the destruction of the 
old nobility. The military, particularly, was too exclusively reserved 
for men of family. But, after all, this was an error of opinion, which 
a conflicting opinion would have rectified. A permanent assembly, 
in which the commons had their share of power, would soon abolish 
whatever was too invidious and insulting in these distinctions; and 
even the faults in the morals of the nobility would have been prob- 
ably corrected, by the greater varieties of occupation and pursuit to 
which a constitution by orders would have given rise. 

All this violent cry against the nobility I take to be a mere work 
of art. To be honoured and even privileged by the laws, opinions, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 273 

and inveterate usages of our country, growing out of the prejudice 
of ages, has nothing to provoke horror and indignation in any man. 
Even to be too tenacious of those privileges is not absolutely a crime. 
The strong struggle in every individual to preserve possession of 
what he has found to belong to him, and to distinguish him is one 
of the securities against injustice and despotism implanted in our 
nature. It operates as an instinct to secure property, and to pre- 
serve communities in a settled state. What is there to shock in this ? 
Nobility is a graceful ornament to the civil order. It is the Corinthian 
capital of polished society. Omnes boni nobilitati semper javemus, 
was the saying of a wise and good man. It is indeed one sign of a 
liberal and benevolent mind to incline to it with some sort of partial 
propensity. He feels no ennobling principle in his own heart, who 
wishes to level all the artificial institutions which have been adopted 
for giving a body to opinion, and permanence to fugitive esteem. It 
is a sour, malignant, envious disposition, without taste for the reality, 
or for any image or representation of virtue, that sees with joy the 
unmerited fall of what had long flourished in splendour and in 
honour. I do not like to see anything destroyed; any void pro- 
duced in society; any ruin on the face of the land. It was therefore 
with no disappointment or dissatisfaction that my inquiries and 
observations did not present to me any incorrigible vices in the 
noblesse of France, or any abuse which could not be removed by a 
reform very short of abolition. Your noblesse did not deserve punish- 
ment: but to degrade is to punish. 

It was with the same satisfaction I found that the result of my 
inquiry concerning your clergy was not dissimilar. It is no soothing 
news to my ears, that great bodies of men are incurably corrupt. It 
is not with much credulity I listen to any, when they speak evil of 
those whom they are going to plunder. I rather suspect that vices 
are feigned or exaggerated, when profit is looked for in their punish- 
ment. An enemy is a bad witness; a robber is a worse. Vices and 
abuses there were undoubtedly in that order, and must be. It was 
an old establishment, and not frequently revised. But I saw no 
crimes in the individuals that merited confiscation of their sub- 
stance, nor those cruel insults and degradations, and that unnatural 



274 EDMUND BURKE 

persecution, which have been substituted in the place of meliorating 
regulation. 

If there had been any just cause for this new religious persecution, 
the atheistic libellers, who act as trumpeters to animate the populace 
to plunder, do not love any body so much as not to dwell with com- 
placence on the vices of the existing clergy. This they have not done. 
They find themselves obliged to rake into the histories of former 
ages (which they have ransacked with a malignant and profligate 
industry) for every instance of oppression and persecution which has 
been made by that body or in its favour, in order to justify, upon very 
iniquitous, because very illogical, principles of retaliation, their 
own persecutions, and their own cruelties. After destroying all other 
genealogies and family distinctions, they invent a sort of pedigree of 
crimes. It is not very just to chastise men for the offences of their 
natural ancestors: but to take the fiction of ancestry in a corporate 
succession, as a ground for punishing men who have no relation 
to guilty acts, except in names and general descriptions, is a sort of 
refinement in injustice belonging to the philosophy of this enlight- 
ened age. The Assembly punishes men, many, if not most, of whom 
abhor the violent conduct of ecclesiastics in former times as much as 
their present persecutors can do, and who would be as loud and as 
strong in the expression of that sense, if they were not well aware of 
the purposes for which all this declamation is employed. 

Corporate bodies are immortal for the good of the members, but 
not for their punishment. Nations themselves are such corporations. 
As well might we in England think of waging inexpiable war upon 
all Frenchmen for the evils which they have brought upon us in the 
several periods of our mutual hostilities. You might, on your part, 
think yourselves justified in falling upon all Englishmen on account 
of the unparalleled calamities brought on the people of France by 
the unjust invasions of our Henries and our Edwards. Indeed we 
should be mutually justified in this exterminatory war upon each 
other, full as much as you are in the unprovoked persecution of 
your present countrymen, on account of the conduct of men of the 
same name in other times. 

We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On 
the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 275 

to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for 
our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the 
past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may, in the perversion, 
serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons 
for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keep- 
ing alive, or reviving, dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel 
to civil fury. History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries 
brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, 
sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly 
appetites, which shake the public with the same 

"troublous storms that toss 
The private state, and render life unsweet." 

These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, 
prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts. 
The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real 
good. You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition, by root- 
ing out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts 
apply? If you did, you would root out everything that is valuable in 
the human breast. As these are the pretexts, so the ordinary actors 
and instruments in great public evils are kings, priests, magistrates, 
senates, parliaments, national assemblies, judges, and captains. You 
would not cure the evil by resolving, that there should be no more 
monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters 
of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change 
the names. The things in some shape must remain. A certain 
quantum of power must always exist in the community, in some 
hands, and under some appellation. Wise men will apply their reme- 
dies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are perma- 
nent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and the transi- 
tory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise 
historically, a fool in practice. Seldom have two ages the same 
fashion in their pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wicked- 
ness is a little more inventive. Whilst you are discussing fashion, the 
fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. The 
spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life by the 
change of its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs with a 



276 EDMUND BURKE 

fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. It walks abroad, it continues its 
ravages, whilst you are gibbeting the carcase, or demolishing the 
tomb. You are terrifying yourselves with ghosts and apparitions, 
whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It is thus with all those, 
who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are 
waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour 
of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are author- 
izing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and 
perhaps in worse. 

Your citizens of Paris formerly had lent themselves as the ready 
instruments to slaughter the followers of Calvin, at the infamous 
massacre of St. Bartholomew. What should we say to those who 
could think of retaliating on the Parisians of this day the abomina- 
tions and horrors of that time? They are indeed brought to abhor 
that massacre. Ferocious as they are, it is not difficult to make them 
dislike it; because the politicians and fashionable teachers have no 
interest in giving their passions exactly the same direction. Still, 
however, they find it their interest to keep the same savage dispo- 
sitions alive. It was but the other day that they caused this very 
massacre to be acted on the stage for the diversion of the descend- 
ants of those who committed it. In this tragic farce they produced 
the cardinal of Lorraine in his robes of function, ordering general 
slaughter. Was this spectacle intended to make the Parisians abhor 
persecution, and loathe the effusion of blood? No; it was to teach 
them to persecute their own pastors; it was to excite them, by raising 
a disgust and horror of their clergy, to an alacrity in hunting down 
to destruction an order, which, if it ought to exist at all, ought to 
exist not only in safety, but in reverence. It was to stimulate their 
cannibal appetites (which one would think had been gorged suffi- 
ciently) by variety and seasoning; and to quicken them to an alert- 
ness in new murders and massacres, if it should suit the purpose of 
the Guises of the day. An assembly, in which sat a multitude of 
priests and prelates, was obliged to suffer this indignity at its door. 
The author was not sent to the galleys, nor the players to the house 
of correction. Not long after this exhibition, those players came 
forward to the Assembly to claim the rites of that very religion 
which they had dared to expose, and to show their prostituted faces 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 277 

in the senate, whilst the archbishop of Paris, whose function was 
known to his people only by his prayers and benedictions, and his 
wealth only by his alms, is forced to abandon his house, and to fly 
from his flock, (as from ravenous wolves,) because, truly, in the 
sixteenth century, the cardinal of Lorraine was a rebel and a mur- 
derer. 37 

Such is the effect of the perversion of history, by those, who, for 
the same nefarious purposes, have perverted every other part of 
learning. But those who will stand upon that elevation of reason, 
which places centuries under our eye, and brings things to the true 
point of comparison, which obscures little names, and effaces the 
colours of little parties, and to which nothing can ascend but the 
spirit and moral quality of human actions, will say to the teachers of 
the Palais Royal, The cardinal of Lorraine was the murderer of 
the sixteenth century, you have the glory of being the murderers in 
the eighteenth; and this is the only difference between you. But his- 
tory in the ninteenth century, better understood, and better employed, 
will, I trust, teach a civilized posterity to abhor the misdeeds of both 
these barbarous ages. It will teach future priests and magistrates not 
to retaliate upon the speculative and inactive atheists of future times, 
the enormities committed by the present practical zealots and furi- 
ous fanatics of that wretched error, which, in its quiescent state, is 
more than punished, whenever it is embraced. It will teach posterity 
not to make war upon either religion or philosophy, for the abuse 
which the hypocrites of both have made of the two most valuable 
blessings conferred upon us by the bounty of the universal Patron, 
who in all things eminently favours and protects the race of man. 

If your clergy, or any clergy, should show themselves vicious be- 
yond the fair bounds allowed to human infirmity, and to those pro- 
fessional faults which can hardly be separated from professional 
virtues, though their vices never can countenance the exercise of 
oppression, I do admit, that they would naturally have the effect of 
abating very much of our indignation against the tyrants who ex- 
ceed measure and justice in their punishment. I can allow in clergy- 
men, through all their divisions, some tenaciousness of their own 

37 This is on a supposition of the truth of this story, but he was not in France 
at the time. One name serves as well as another. 



278 EDMUND BURKE 

opinion, some overflowings of zeal for its propagation, some predi- 
lection to their own state and office, some attachment to the inter- 
ests of their own corps, some preference to those who listen with 
docility to their doctrines, beyond those who scorn and deride them. 
I allow all this, because I am a man who have to deal with men, 
and who would not, through a violence of toleration, run into the 
greatest of all intolerance. I must bear with infirmities until they 
fester into crimes. 

Undoubtedly, the natural progress of the passions, from frailty to 
vice, ought to be prevented by a watchful eye and a firm hand. But 
it is true that the body of your clergy had past those limits of a just 
allowance. From the general style of your late publications of all 
sorts, one would be led to believe that your clergy in France were a 
sort of monsters; an horrible composition of superstition, ignorance, 
sloth, fraud, avarice, and tyranny. But is this true? Is it true, that 
the lapse of time, the cessation of conflicting interests, the woeful 
experience of the evils resulting from party rage, have had no sort 
of influence gradually to meliorate their minds? Is it true, that they 
were daily renewing invasions on the civil power, troubling the 
domestic quiet of their country, and rendering the operations of its 
government feeble and precarious? Is it true, that the clergy of our 
times have pressed down the laity with an iron hand, and were in all 
places, lighting up the fires of a savage persecution? Did they by 
every fraud endeavour to increase their estates? Did they use to 
exceed the due demands on estates that were their own? Or, rigidly 
screwing up right into wrong, did they convert a legal claim into a 
vexatious extortion ? When not possessed of power, were they filled 
with the vices of those who envy it? Were they inflamed with a 
violent, litigious spirit of controversy? Goaded on with the ambi- 
tion of intellectual sovereignty, were they ready to fly in the face of 
all magistracy, to fire churches, to massacre the priests of other 
descriptions, to pull down altars, and to make their way over the 
ruins of subverted governments to an empire or doctrine sometimes 
flattering, sometimes forcing the consciences of men from the juris- 
diction of public institutions into a submission of their personal au- 
thority, beginning with a claim of liberty, and ending with an abuse 
of power? 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 279 

These, or some of these, were the vices objected, and not wholly 
without foundation, to several of the churchmen of former times, 
who belonged to the two great parties, which then divided and 
distracted Europe. 

If there was in France, as in other countries there visibly is, a great 
abatement, rather than any increase of these vices, instead of loading 
the present clergy with the crimes of other men, and the odious 
character of other times, in common equity they ought to be praised, 
encouraged, and supported, in their departure from a spirit which 
disgraced their predecessors, and for having assumed a temper of 
mind and manners more suitable to their sacred function. 

When my occasions took me into France, towards the close of the 
late reign, the clergy, under all their forms, engaged a considerable 
part of my curiosity. So far from finding (except from one set of 
men, not then very numerous, though very active) the complaints 
and discontents against that body, which some publications had 
given me reason to expect, I perceived little or no public or private 
uneasiness on their account. On further examination, I found the 
clergy, in general, persons of moderate minds and decorous manners; 
I include the seculars, and the regulars of both sexes. I had not the 
good fortune to know a great many of the parochial clergy: but in 
general I received a perfectly good account of their morals, and of 
their attention to their duties. With some of the higher clergy 
I had a personal acquaintance; and of the rest in that class, a very 
good means of information. They were, almost all of them, per- 
sons of noble birth. They resembled others of their own rank; and 
where there was any difference, it was in their favour. They were 
more fully educated than the military noblesse; so as by no means 
to disgrace their profession by ignorance, or by want of fitness for 
the exercise of their authority. They seemed to me, beyond the cleri- 
cal character, liberal and open; with the hearts of gentlemen, and 
men of honour; neither insolent nor servile in their manners and con- 
duct. They seemed to me rather a superior class; a set of men, 
amongst whom you would not be surprised to find a Fenelon. I 
saw among the clergy in Paris (many of the description are not to be 
met with anywhere) men of great learning and candour; and I had 
reason to believe, that this description was not confined to Paris. 



280 EDMUND BURKE 

What I found in other places, I know was accidental; and therefore 
to be presumed a fair example. I spent a few days in a provincial 
town, where, in the absence of the bishop, I passed my evenings 
with three clergymen, his vicars-general, persons who would have 
done honour to any church. They were all well informed; two of 
them of deep, general, and extensive erudition, ancient and modern, 
oriental and western; particularly in their own profession. They had 
a more extensive knowledge of our English divines than I expected 
and they entered into the genius of those writers with a critical 
accuracy. One of these gentlemen is since dead, the Abbe Morangis. 
I pay this tribute, without reluctance, to the memory of that noble, 
reverend, learned, and excellent person; and I should do the same 
with equal cheerfulness, to the merits of the others, who I believe 
are still living, if I did not fear to hurt those whom I am unable 
to serve. 

Some of these ecclesiastics of rank are, by all titles, persons deserv- 
ing of general respect. They are deserving of gratitude from me, 
and from many English. If this letter should ever come into their 
hands, I hope they will believe there are those of our nation who feel 
for their unmerited fall, and for the cruel confiscation of their for- 
tunes, with no common sensibility. What I say of them is a testi- 
mony, as far as one feeble voice can go, which I owe to truth. When- 
ever the question of this unnatural persecution is concerned, I will 
pay it. No one shall prevent me from being just and grateful. The 
time is fitted for the duty; and it is particularly becoming to show 
our justice and gratitude, when those, who have deserved well of us 
and of mankind, are labouring under popular obloquy, and the per- 
secutions of oppressive power. 

You had before your Revolution about an hundred and twenty 
bishops. A few of them were men of eminent sanctity, and charity 
without limit. When we talk of the heroic, of course we talk of rare 
virtue. I believe the instances of eminent depravity may be as rare 
amongst them as those of transcendent goodness. Examples of 
avarice and of licentiousness may be picked out, I do not question 
it, by those who delight in the investigation which leads to such dis- 
coveries. A man as old as I am will not be astonished that several, 
in every description, do not lead that perfect life of self-denial, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 28 1 

with regard to wealth or to pleasure, which is wished for by all, by 
some expected, but by none exacted with more rigour, than by those 
who are the most attentive to their own interests, or the most indul- 
gent to their own passions. When I was in France, I am certain that 
the number of vicious prelates was not great. Certain individuals 
among them, not distinguishable for the regularity of their lives, 
made some amends for their want of the severe virtues, in their pos- 
session of the liberal; and were endowed with qualities which made 
them useful in the church and state. I am told, that, with few excep- 
tions, Louis the Sixteenth had been more attentive to character, in his 
promotions to that rank, than his immediate predecessor; and I be- 
lieve (as some spirit of reform has prevailed through the whole 
reign) that it may be true. But the present ruling power has shown 
a disposition only to plunder the church. It has punished all pre- 
lates; which is to favour the vicious, at least in point of reputation. 
It has made a degrading pensionary establishment, to which no man 
of liberal ideas or liberal condition will destine his children. It 
must settle into the lowest classes of the people. As with you the 
inferior clergy are not numerous enough for their duties; as these 
duties are, beyond measure, minute and toilsome, as you have left 
no middle classes of clergy at their ease, in future nothing of science 
or erudition can exist in the Gallican church. To complete the proj- 
ect, without the least attention to the rights of patrons, the Assembly 
has provided in future an elective clergy; an arrangement which will 
drive out of the clerical profession all men of sobriety; all who can 
pretend to independence in their function or their conduct; and 
which will throw the whole direction of the public mind into the 
hands of a set of licentious, bold, crafty, factious, flattering wretches, 
of such condition and such habits of life as will make their con- 
temptible pensions (in comparison of which the stipend of an excise- 
man is lucrative and honourable) an object of low and illiberal 
intrigue. Those officers, whom they still call bishops, are to be elected 
to a provision comparatively mean, through the same arts, (that is, 
electioneering arts,) by men of all religious tenets that are known or 
can be invented. The new lawgivers have not ascertained anything 
whatsoever concerning their qualifications, relative either to doc- 
trine or to morals; no more than they have done with regard to the 



282 EDMUND BURKE 

subordinate clergy: nor does it appear but that both the higher and 
the lower may, at their discretion, practise or preach any mode of 
religion or irreligion that they please. I do not yet see what the juris- 
diction of bishops over their subordinates is to be, or whether they 
are to have any jurisdiction at all. 

In short, Sir, it seems to me, that this new ecclesiastical establish- 
ment is intended only to be temporary, and preparatory to the utter 
abolition, under any of its forms, of the Christian religion, whenever 
the minds of men are prepared for this last stroke against it, by the 
accomplishment of the plan for bringing its ministers into universal 
contempt. They who will not believe, that the philosophical fanat- 
ics, who guide in these matters, have long entertained such a design, 
are utterly ignorant of their character and proceedings. These en- 
thusiasts do not scruple to avow their opinion, that a state can subsist 
without any religion better than with one and that they are able 
to supply the place of any good which may be in it, by a project of 
their own namely, by a sort of education they have imagined, 
founded in a knowledge of the physical wants of men; progressively 
carried to an enlightened self-interest, which, when well understood, 
they tell us, will identify with an interest more enlarged and public. 
The scheme of this education has been long known. Of late they 
distinguish it (as they have got an entirely new nomenclature of 
technical terms) by the name of a Civic Education. 

I hope their partisans in England (to whom I rather attribute very 
inconsiderate conduct, than the ultimate object in this detestable 
design) will succeed neither in the pillage of the ecclesiastics, nor 
in the introduction of a principle of popular election to our bishoprics 
and parochial cures. This, in the present condition of the world, 
would be the last corruption of the church; the utter ruin of the 
clerical character; the most dangerous shock that the state ever re- 
ceived through a misunderstood arrangement of religion. I know 
well enough that the bishoprics and cures, under kingly and seigni- 
oral patronage, as now they are in England, and as they have been 
lately in France, are sometimes acquired by unworthy methods; but 
the other mode of ecclesiastical canvass subjects them infinitely more 
surely and more generally to all the evil arts of low ambition, which, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 283 

operating on and through greater numbers, will produce mischief 
in proportion. 

Those of you, who have robbed the clergy, think that they shall 
easily reconcile their conduct to all Protestant nations; because the 
clergy, whom they have thus plundered, degraded, and given over 
to mockery and scorn, are of the Roman Catholic, that is, of their 
own pretended persuasion. I have no doubt that some miserable 
bigots will be found here, as well as elsewhere, who hate sects and 
parties different from their own, more than they love the substance 
of religion; and who are more angry with those who differ from 
them in their particular plans and systems, than displeased with those 
who attack the foundation of our common hope. These men will 
write and speak on the subject in the manner that is to be expected 
from their temper and character. Burnet says, that when he was in 
France, in the year 1683, "the method which carried over the men 
of the finest parts to Popery was this they brought themselves to 
doubt of the whole Christian religion. When that was once done, 
it seemed a more indifferent thing of what side or form they con- 
tinued outwardly." If this was then the ecclesiastical policy of 
France, it is what they have since but too much reason to repent of. 
They preferred atheism to a form of religion not agreeable to their 
ideas. They succeeded in destroying that form; and atheism has suc- 
ceeded in destroying them. I can readily give credit to Burnet's story; 
because I have observed too much of a similar spirit (for a little of 
it is "much too much") amongst ourselves. The humour, however, 
is not general. 

The teachers who reformed our religion in England bore no sort 
of resemblance to your present reforming doctors in Paris. Perhaps 
they were (like those whom they opposed) rather more than could 
be wished under the influence of a party spirit; but they were more 
sincere believers; men of the most fervent and exalted piety; ready to 
die (as some of them did die) like true heroes in defence of their 
particular ideas of Christianity; as they would with equal fortitude, 
and more cheerfully, for that stock of general truth, for the branches 
of which they contended with their blood. These men would have 
disavowed with horror those wretches who claimed a fellowship with 



284 EDMUND BURKE 

them upon no other titles than those of their having pillaged the 
persons with whom they maintained controversies, and their having 
despised the common religion, for the purity of which they exerted 
themselves with a zeal, which unequivocally bespoke their highest 
reverence for the substance of that system which they wished to 
reform. Many of their descendants have retained the same zeal, 
but (as less engaged in conflict) with more moderation. They do not 
forget that justice and mercy are substantial parts of religion. Im- 
pious men do not recommend themselves to their communion by 
iniquity and cruelty towards any description of their fellow-creatures. 
We hear these new teachers continually boasting of their spirit 
of toleration. That those persons should tolerate all opinions, who 
think none to be of estimation, is a matter of small merit. Equal 
neglect is not impartial kindness. The species of benevolence, which 
arises from contempt, is no true charity. There are in England 
abundance of men who tolerate in the true spirit of toleration. They 
think the dogmas of religion, though in different degrees, are all of 
moment: and that amongst them there is, as amongst all things of 
value, a just ground of preference. They favour, therefore, and they 
tolerate. They tolerate, not because they despise opinions, but be- 
cause they respect justice. They would reverently and affectionately 
protect all religions, because they love and venerate the great prin- 
ciple upon which they all agree, and the great object to which they 
are all directed. They begin more and more plainly to discern, that 
we have all a common cause, as against a common enemy. They will 
not be so misled by the spirit of faction, as not to distinguish what is 
done in favour of their subdivision, from those acts of hostility, 
which, through some particular description, are aimed at the whole 
corps, in which they themselves, under another denomination, are 
included. It is impossible for me to say what may be the character 
of every description of men amongst us. But I speak for the greater 
part; and for them, I must tell you, that sacrilege is no part of their 
doctrine of good works; that, so far from calling you into their fel- 
lowship on such title, if your professors are admitted to their com- 
munion, they must carefully conceal their doctrine of the lawfulness 
of the prescription of innocent men; and that they must make resti- 
tution of all stolen goods whatsoever. Till then they are none of ours. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 285 

You may suppose that we do not approve your confiscation of 
the revenues of bishops, and deans, and chapters, and parochial 
clergy possessing independent estates arising from land, because we 
have the same sort of establishment in England. That objection, you 
will say, cannot hold as to the confiscation of the goods of monks 
and nuns, and the abolition of their order. It is true that this par- 
ticular part of your general confiscation does not affect England, as 
a precedent in point: but the reason implies, and it goes a great 
way. The long parliament confiscated the lands of deans and chap- 
ters in England on the same ideas upon which your assembly set to 
sale the lands of the monastic orders. But it is in the principle of 
injustice that the danger lies, and not in the description of persons 
on whom it is first exercised. I see, in a country very near us, a 
course of policy pursued, which sets justice, the common concern of 
mankind, at defiance. With the National Assembly of France, pos- 
session is nothing, law and usage are nothing. I see the National 
Assembly openly reprobate the doctrine of prescription, which one 
of the greatest of their own lawyers 38 tells us, with great truth, is a 
part of the law of nature. He tells us, that the positive ascertain- 
ment of its limits, and its security from invasion, were among the 
causes for which civil society itself has been instituted. If prescrip- 
tion be once shaken, no species of property is secure, when it once 
becomes an object large enough to tempt the cupidity of indigent 
power. I see a practice perfectly correspondent to their contempt 
of this great fundamental part of natural law. I see the confiscators 
begin with bishops and chapters, and monasteries; but I do not see 
them end there. I see the princes of the blood, who by the oldest 
usages of that kingdom, held large landed estates, (hardly with the 
compliment of a debate,) deprived of their possessions, and, in lieu 
of their stable, independent property, reduced to the hope of some 
precarious, charitable pension, at the pleasure of an assembly, which 
of course will pay little regard to the rights of pensioners at pleasure, 
when it despises those of legal proprietors. Flushed with the inso- 
lence of their first inglorious victories, and pressed by the distresses 
caused by their lust of unhallowed lucre, disappointed but not dis- 
couraged, they have at length ventured completely to subvert all 

38 Domat. 



286 EDMUND BURKE 

property of all descriptions throughout the extent of a great king- 
dom. They have compelled all men, in all transactions of commerce, 
in the disposal of lands, in civil dealing, and through the* whole com- 
munion of life, to accept as perfect payment and good and lawful 
tender, the symbols of their speculations on a projected sale of their 
plunder. What vestiges of liberty or property have they left? The 
tenant-right of a cabbage-garden, a year's interest in a hovel, the 
good-will of an ale-house or a baker's shop, the very shadow of a 
constructive property, are more ceremoniously treated in our parlia- 
ment, than with you the oldest and most valuable landed possessions, 
in the hands of the most respectable personages, or than the whole 
body of the monied and commercial interest of your country. We 
entertain a high opinion of the legislative authority; but we have 
never dreamt that parliaments had any right whatever to violate 
property, to overrule prescription, or to force a currency of their own 
fiction in the place of that which is real, and recognised by the law 
of nations. But you, who began with refusing to submit to the most 
moderate restraints, have ended by establishing an unheard-of des- 
potism. I find the ground upon which your confiscators go is this; 
that indeed their proceedings could not be supported in a court of 
justice; but that the rules of prescription cannot bind a legislative 
assembly. 39 So that this legislative assembly of a free nation sits, not 
for the security, but for the destruction, of property, and not of 
property only, but of every rule and maxim which can give it stabil- 
ity, and of those instruments which can alone give it circulation. 

When the Anabaptists of Munster, in the sixteenth century, had 
filled Germany with confusion, by their system of levelling, and 
their wild opinions concerning property, to what country in Europe 
did not the progress of their fury furnish just cause of alarm? Of 
all things, wisdom is the most terrified with epidemical fanaticism, 
because of all enemies it is that against which she is the least able 
to furnish any kind of resource. We cannot be ignorant of the spirit 
of atheistical fanaticism, that is inspired by a multitude of writings, 
dispersed with incredible assiduity and expense, and by sermons 
delivered in all the streets and places of public resort in Paris. These 
writings and sermons have filled the populace with a black and sav- 

39 Speech of Mr. Camus, published by order of the National Assembly. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 287 

age atrocity of mind, which supersedes in them the common feelings 
of nature, as well as all sentiments of morality and religion; inso- 
much that these wretches are induced to bear with a sullen patience 
the intolerable distresses brought upon them by the violent convul- 
sions and permutations that have been made in property. 40 The spirit 
of proselytism attends this spirit of fanaticism. They have societies 
to cabal and correspond at home and abroad for the propagation of 
their tenets. The republic of Berne, one of the happiest, the most 
prosperous, and the best governed countries upon earth, is one of the 
great objects, at the destruction of which they aim. I am told they 
have in some measure succeeded in sowing there the seeds of dis- 
content. They are busy throughout Germany. Spain and Italy have 
not been untried. England is not left out of the comprehensive 
scheme of their malignant charity: and in England we find those 
who stretch out their arms to them, who recommend their example 
from more than one pulpit, and who choose in more than one peri- 
odical meeting, publicly to correspond with them, to applaud them, 
and to hold them up as objects for imitation; who receive from them 
tokens of confraternity, and standards consecrated amidst their rights 
and mysteries; 41 who suggest to them leagues of perpetual amity, at 
the very time when the power, to which our constitution has exclu- 
sively delegated the federative capacity of this kingdom, may find it 
expedient to make war upon them. 

It is not the confiscation of our church property from this example 

40 Whether the following description is strictly true, I know not; but it is what the 
publishers would have pass for true in order to animate others. In a letter from 
Toul, given in one of their papers, is the following passage concerning the people 
of that district: "Dans la Revolution actuelle, ils ont resiste a tou.tes les seductions dn 
bigotisme, aux^ persecutions, et aux tracasseries des ennemis de la Revolution. Onbliant 
leurs plus grands interets pour rendre hommage aux vues d'ordre general qui ont 
determine I'Assemblee Nationale, ils voient, sans se plaindre, supprimer cette foule 
d'etablissemens ecclesiastiques par lesquels ils subsistoient; et meme, en perdant leur 
siege episcopal, la seul de toutes ses ressources qui pouvoit, ou plutot qui devoit, en 
toute equite, leur etre conserved; condamnes a la plus effrayante misere, sans avoir 
etc ni pu etre entendus, ils ne murmurent point, ils restent fideles aux principes du 
plus pur patriotisme; ils sont encore prets a verser leur sang pour le maintien de la 
Constitution, qui va reduire leur ville a la plus deplorable nullite." These people are 
not supposed to have endured those sufferings and injustices in a struggle for liberty, 
for the same account states truly that they had been always free; their patience in 
beggary and ruin, and their suffering, without remonstrance, the most flagrant and 
confessed injustice, if strictly true, can be nothing but the effect of this dire fanati- 
cism. A great multitude all over France is in the same condition and the same temper. 

41 See the proceedings of the confederation at Nantz. 



288 EDMUND BURKE 

in France that I dread, though I think this would be no trifling 
evil. The great source of my solicitude is, lest it should ever be 
considered in England as the policy of a state to seek a resource in 
confiscations of any kind; or that any one description of citizens 
should be brought to regard any of the others as their proper prey. 42 
Nations are wading deeper and deeper into an ocean of boundless 
debt. Public debts, which at first were a security to governments, by 
interesting many in the public tranquillity, are likely in their excess 
to become the means of their subversion. If governments provide for 
these debts by heavy impositions, they perish by becoming odious to 
the people. If they do not provide for them they will be undone by 
the efforts of the most dangerous of all parties; I mean an exten- 
sive, discontented monied interest, injured and not destroyed. The 
men who compose this interest look for their security, in the first 
instance, to the fidelity of government; in the second, to its power. 
If they find the old governments effete, worn out, and with their 
springs relaxed, so as not to be of sufficient vigour for their purposes, 
they may seek new ones that shall be possessed of more energy; and 
this energy will be derived, not from an acquisition of resources, 
but from a contempt of justice. Revolutions are favourable to con- 
fiscation; and it is impossible to know under what obnoxious names 
the next confiscations will be authorized. I am sure that the prin- 
ciples predominant in France extend to very many persons, and 
descriptions of persons, in all countries who think their innoxious 
indolence their security. This kind of innocence in proprietors may 
be argued into inutility; and inutility into an unfitness for their 

42 "Si plures sunt ii quibus improbe datum est, quam illi quibus injuste ademptum 
est, idcirco plus etiam valent? Non enim numero hzc judicantur sed pondere. 
Quam autem habet aequitatem, ut agrum multis annis, aut etiam saeculis ante 
possessum, qui nullum habuit habeat; qui autem habuit amittat? Ac, propter hoc 
injuriae genus, Lacedaemonii Lysandrum Ephorum expulerunt: Agin regem (quod 
nunquam antea apud eos acciderat) necaverunt: exque eo tempore tantae discordiae 
secutae sunt, ut et tyranni existerint, et optimates exterminarentur, et preclarissime 
constituta respublica dilaberetur. Nee vero solum ipsa cecidit, sed etiam reliquam 
Graeciam evertit contagionibus malorum, quae a Lacedaemoniis profectae manarunt 
latius." After speaking of the conduct of the model of true patriots, Aratus of Sicyon, 
which was in a very different spirit, he says, "Sic par est agere cum civibus; non ut bis 
jam vidimus, hastam in foro ponere et bona civium voci subjicere praeconis. At ille 
Graecus (id quod fuit sapientis et praestantis viri) omnibus consulendum esse putavit: 
eaque est summa ratio et sapientia boni civis, commoda civium non divellere, sed 
omnes eadem zquitate continere." Cic. Off. 1. 2. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 289 

estates. Many parts of Europe are in open disorder. In many others 
there is a hollow murmuring under ground; a confused movement is 
felt, that threatens a general earthquake in the political world. Al- 
ready confederacies and correspondencies of the most extraordinary 
nature are forming, in several countries. 43 In such a state of things 
we ought to hold ourselves upon our guard. In all mutations (if 
mutations must be) the circumstance which will serve most to blunt 
the edge of their mischief, and to promote what good may be in 
them, is that they should find us with our minds tenacious of justice, 
and tender of property. 

But it will be argued, that this confiscation in France ought not 
to alarm other nations. They say it is not made from wanton ra- 
pacity; that it is a great measure of national policy, adopted to 
remove an extensive, inveterate, superstitious mischief. It is with the 
greatest difficulty that I am able to separate policy from justice. 
Justice itself is the great standing policy of civil society; and any 
eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the 
suspicion of being no policy at all. 

When men are encouraged to go into a certain mode of life by 
the existing laws, and protected in that mode as in a lawful occupa- 
tion when they have accommodated all their ideas and all their 
habits to it when the law had long made their adherence to its 
rules a ground of reputation, and their departure from them a 
ground of disgrace and even of penalty I am sure it is unjust in 
legislature, by an arbitrary act, to ofTer a sudden violence to their 
minds and their feelings; forcibly to degrade them from their state 
and condition, and to stigmatize with shame and infamy that char- 
acter, and those customs, which before had been made the measure 
of their happiness and honour. If to this be added an expulsion 
from their habitations, and a confiscation of all their goods, I am 
not sagacious enough to discover how this despotic sport, made of 
the feelings, consciences, prejudices, and properties of men, can be 
discriminated from the rankest tyranny. 

If the injustice of the course pursued in France be clear, the policy 
of the measure, that is, the public benefit to be expected from it, 

43 See two books entitled, Enige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens. System 
und Folgen des Illuminatenordens. Munchen, 1787. 



EDMUND BURKE 

ought to be at least as evident, and at least as important. To a 
man who acts under the influence of no passion, who has nothing 
in view in his projects but the public good, a great difference will 
immediately strike him between what policy would dictate on the 
original introduction of such institutions, and on a question of their 
total abolition, where they have cast their roots wide and deep, and 
where, by long habit, things more valuable than themselves are so 
adapted to them, and in a manner interwoven with them, that the 
one cannot be destroyed without notably impairing the other. He 
might be embarrassed if the case were really such as sophisters rep- 
resent it in their paltry style of debating. But in this, as in most 
questions of state, there is a middle. There is something else than 
the mere alternative of absolute destruction, or unreformed exist- 
ence. Spartam nactus es; hanc exorna. This is, in my opinion, a 
rule of profound sense, and ought never to depart from the mind of 
an honest reformer. I cannot conceive how any man can have 
brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his coun- 
try as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble what- 
ever he pleases. A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may 
wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it; but a good 
patriot, and a true politician, always considers how he shall make 
the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to 
preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my 
standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the concep- 
tion, perilous in the execution. 

There are moments in the fortune of states, when particular men 
are called to make improvements, by great mental exertion. In those 
moments, even when they seem to enjoy the confidence of their 
prince and country, and to be invested with full authority, they have 
not always apt instruments. A politician, to do great things, looks 
for a power, what our workmen call a purchase; and if he finds that 
power, in politics as in mechanics, -he cannot be at a loss to apply it. 
In the monastic institutions, in my opinion, was found a great power 
for the mechanism of politic benevolence. There were revenues with 
a public direction; there were men wholly set apart and dedicated 
to public purposes, without any other than public ties and public 
principles; men without the possibility of converting the estate of 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 291 

the community into a private fortune; men denied to self-interests, 
whose avarice is for some community; men to whom personal pov- 
erty is honour, and implicit obedience stands in the place of free- 
dom. In vain shall a man look to the possibility of making such 
things when he wants them. The winds blow as they list. These 
institutions are the products of enthusiasm; they are the instruments 
of wisdom. Wisdom cannot create materials; they are the gifts of 
nature or of chance; her pride is in the use. The perennial existence 
of bodies corporate and their fortunes are things particularly suited 
to a man who has long views; who meditates designs that require 
time in fashioning, and which propose duration when they are ac- 
complished. He is not deserving to rank high, or even to be men- 
tioned in the order of great statesmen, who, having obtained the 
command and direction of such a power as existed in the wealth, the 
discipline, and the habits of such corporations, as those which you 
have rashly destroyed, cannot find any way of converting it to the 
great and lasting benefit of his country. On the view of this subject, 
a thousand uses suggest themselves to a contriving mind. To de- 
stroy any power, growing wild from the rank productive force of 
the human mind, is almost tantamount, in the moral world, to the 
destruction of the apparently active properties of bodies in the ma- 
terial. It would be like the attempt to destroy (if it were in our 
competence to destroy) the expansive force of fixed air in nitre, or 
the power of steam, or of electricity, or of magnetism. These ener- 
gies always existed in nature, and they were always discernible. 
They seemed, some of them unserviceable, some noxious, some no 
better than a sport to children; until contemplative ability, combin- 
ing with practic skill, tamed their wild nature, subdued them to 
use, and rendered them at once the most powerful and the most 
tractable agents, in subservience to the great views and designs of 
men. Did fifty thousand persons, whose mental and whose bodily 
labour you might direct, and so many hundred thousand a year of 
a revenue, which was neither lazy nor superstitious, appear too big 
for your abilities to wield? Had you no way of using them but by 
converting monks into pensioners? Had you no way of turning the 
revenue to account, but through the improvident resource of a spend- 
thrift sale? If you were thus destitute of mental funds, the proceed- 



292 EDMUND BURKE 

ing is in its natural course. Your politicians do not understand 
their trade; and therefore they sell their tools. 

But the institutions savour of superstition in their very principle; 
and they nourish it by a permanent and standing influence. This I 
do not mean to dispute; but this ought not to hinder you from de- 
riving from superstition itself any resources which may thence be 
furnished for the public advantage. You derive benefits from many 
dispositions and many passions of the human mind, which are of as 
doubtful a colour, in the moral eye, as superstition itself. It was 
your business to correct and mitigate everything which was noxious 
in this passion, as in all the passions. But is superstition the greatest 
of all possible vices ? In its possible excess I think it becomes a very 
great evil. It is, however, a moral subject; and of course admits of 
all degrees and all modifications. Superstition is the religion of 
feeble minds; and they must be tolerated in an intermixture of it, 
in some trifling or some enthusiastic shape or other, else you will 
deprive weak minds of a resource found necessary to the strongest. 
The body of all true religion consists, to be sure, in obedience to the 
will of the Sovereign of the world; in a confidence in his declara- 
tions; and in imitation of his perfections. The rest is our own. It 
may be prejudicial to the great end; it may be auxiliary. Wise men, 
who as such are not admirers, (not admirers at least of the Munera 
Ternz,) are not violently attached to these things, nor do they vio- 
lently hate them. Wisdom is not the most severe corrector of folly. 
They are the rival follies, which mutually wage so unrelenting a 
war; and which make so cruel a use of their advantages, as they 
can happen to engage the immoderate vulgar, on the one side, or the 
other, in their quarrels. Prudence would be neuter; but if, in the 
contention between fond attachment and fierce antipathy concern- 
ing things in their nature not made to produce such heats, a pru- 
dent man were obliged to make a choice of what errors and excesses 
of enthusiasm he would condemn or bear, perhaps he would think 
the superstition which builds, to be more tolerable than that which 
demolishes that which adorns a country, than that which deforms 
it that which endows, than that which plunders that which dis- 
poses to mistaken beneficence, than that which stimulates to real 
justice that which leads a man to refuse to himself lawful pleas- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 293 

ures, than that which snatches from others the scanty subsistence of 
their self-denial. Such, I think, is very nearly the state of the ques- 
tion between the ancient founders of monkish superstition, and the 
superstition of the pretended philosophers of the hour. 

For the present I postpone all consideration of the supposed pub- 
lic profit of the sale, which however I conceive to be perfectly de- 
lusive. I shall here only consider it as a transfer of property. On 
the policy of that transfer I shall trouble you with a few thoughts. 

In every prosperous community something more is produced than 
goes to the immediate support of the producer. This surplus forms 
the income of the landed capitalist. It will be spent by a proprietor 
who does not labour. But this idleness is itself the spring of labour; 
this repose the spur to industry. The only concern of the state is, 
that the capital taken in rent from the land, should be returned again 
to the industry from whence it came; and that its expenditure 
should be with the least possible detriment to the morals of those 
who expend it, and to those of the people to whom it is returned. 

In all the views of receipt, expenditure, and personal employ- 
ment, a sober legislator would carefully compare the possessor whom 
he was recommended to expel, with the stranger who was proposed 
to fill his place. Before the inconveniencies are incurred which must 
attend all violent revolutions in property through extensive confisca- 
tion, we ought to have some rational assurance that the purchasers 
of the confiscated property will be in a considerable degree more 
laborious, more virtuous, more sober, less disposed to extort an un- 
reasonable proportion of the gains of the labourer, or to consume 
on themselves a larger share than is fit for the measure of an in- 
dividual; or that they should be qualified to dispense the surplus in 
a more steady and equal mode, so as to answer the purposes of a 
politic expenditure, than the old possessors, call those possessors 
bishops, or canons, or commendatory abbots, or monks, or what you 
please. The monks are lazy. Be it so. Suppose them no otherwise 
employed than by singing in the choir. They are as usefully em- 
ployed as those who neither sing nor say. As usefully even as those 
who sing upon the stage. They are as usefully employed as if they 
worked from dawn to dark in the innumerable servile, degrading, 
unseemly, unmanly, and often most unwholesome and pestiferous 



294 EDMUND BURKE 

occupations, to which by the social economy so many wretches are 
inevitably doomed. If it were not generally pernicious to disturb 
the natural course of things, and to impede in any degree, the great 
wheel of circulation which is turned by the strangely-directed labour 
of these unhappy people, I should be infinitely more inclined forci- 
bly to rescue them from their miserable industry, than violently to 
disturb the tranquil repose of monastic quietude. Humanity, and 
perhaps policy, might better justify me in the one than in the other. 
It is a subject on which I have often reflected, and never reflected 
without feeling from it. I am sure that no consideration, except the 
necessity of submitting to the yoke of luxury, and the despotism of 
fancy, who in their own imperious way will distribute the surplus 
product of the soil, can justify the toleration of such trades and em- 
ployments in a well-regulated state. But for this purpose of distri- 
bution, it seems to me, that the idle expenses of monks are quite as 
well directed as the idle expenses of us lay-loiterers. 

When the advantages of the possession and of the project are on 
a par, there is no motive for a change. But in the present case, 
perhaps, they are not upon a par, and the difference is in favour of 
the possession. It does not appear to me, that the expenses of those 
whom you are going to expel, do in fact take a course so directly 
and so generally leading to vitiate and degrade and render miser- 
able those through whom they pass, as the expenses of those fa- 
vourites whom you are intruding into their houses. Why should the 
expenditure of a great landed property, which is a dispersion of the 
surplus product of the soil, appear intolerable to you or to me, 
when it takes its course through the accumulation of vast libraries, 
which are the history of the force and weakness of the human mind; 
through great collections of ancient records, medals, and coins, which 
attest and explain laws and customs; through paintings and statues, 
that, by imitating nature, seem to extend the limits of creation; 
through grand monuments of the dead, which continue the regards 
and connexions of life beyond the grave; through collections of the 
specimens of nature which become a representative assembly of all 
the classes and families of the world, that by disposition facilitate, 
and, by exciting curiosity, open the avenues to science? If by great 
permanent establishments, all these objects of expense are better 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 295 

secured from the inconstant sport of personal caprice and personal 
extravagance, are they worse than if the same tastes prevailed in 
scattered individuals? Does not the sweat of the mason and car- 
penter, who toil in order to partake of the sweat of the peasant, flow 
as pleasantly and as salubriously, in the construction and repair of 
the majestic edifices of religion, as in the painted booths and sordid 
sties of vice and luxury; as honourably and as profitably in repair- 
ing those sacred works, which grow hoary with innumerable years, 
as on the momentary receptacles of transient voluptuousness; in 
opera-houses, and brothels, and gaming-houses, and club-houses, and 
obelisks in the Champ de Mars ? Is the surplus product of the olive 
and the vine worse employed in the frugal sustenance of persons, 
whom the fictions of a pious imagination raise to dignity by con- 
struing in the service of God, than in pampering the innumerable 
multitude of those who are degraded by being made useless domes- 
tics, subservient to the pride of man? Are the decorations of temples 
an expenditure less worthy a wise man, than ribbons, and laces, and 
national cockades, and petit maisons, and petit soupers, and all the 
innumerable fopperies and follies, in which opulence sports away 
the burthen of its superfluity? 

We tolerate even these; not from love of them, but for fear of 
worse. We tolerate them, because property and liberty, to a degree, 
require that toleration. But why proscribe the other, and surely, in 
every point of view, the more laudable use of estates? Why, 
through the violation of all property, through an outrage upon 
every principle of liberty, forcibly carry them from the better to 
the worse? 

This comparison between the new individuals and the old corps 
is made upon a supposition that no reform could be made in the 
latter. But in a question of reformation, I always consider corporate 
bodies, whether sole or consisting of many, to be much more sus- 
ceptible of a public direction by the power of the state, in the use of 
their property, and in the regulation of modes and habits of life in 
their members, than private citizens ever can be, or perhaps ought to 
be: and this seems to me a very material consideration for those 
who undertake anything which merits the name of a politic enter- 
prise. So far as to the estates of monasteries. 



296 EDMUND BURKE 

With regard to the estates possessed by bishops and canons, and 
commendatory abbots, I cannot find out for what reason some 
landed estates may not be held otherwise than by inheritance. Can 
any philosophic spoiler undertake to demonstrate the positive or the 
comparative evil of having a certain, and that too a large, portion of 
landed property, passing in succession through persons whose title 
to it is, always in theory, and often in fact, an eminent degree of 
piety, morals, and learning; a property, which, by its destination, in 
their turn, and on the score of merit, gives to the noblest families 
renovation and support, to the lowest the means of dignity and ele- 
vation; a property, the tenure of which is the performance of some 
duty, (whatever value you may choose to set upon that duty,) and 
the character of whose proprietors demands, at least, an exterior 
decorum, and gravity of manners; who are to exercise a generous 
but temperate hospitality; part of whose income they are to consider 
as a trust for charity; and who, even when they fail in their trust, 
when they slide from their character, and degenerate into a mere 
common secular nobleman or gentleman, are in no respect worse 
than those who may succeed them in their forfeited possessions? 
Is it better that estates should be held by those who have no duty, 
than by those who have one ? by those whose character and destina- 
tion point to virtues, than by those who have no rule and direction in 
the expenditure of their estates but their own will and appetite? 
Nor are these estates held altogether in the character or with the 
evils supposed inherent in mortmain. They pass from hand to hand 
with a more rapid circulation than any other. No excess is good; 
and therefore too great a proportion of landed property may be held 
officially for life: but it does not seem to me of material injury to 
any commonwealth, that there should exist some estates that have a 
chance of being acquired by other means than the previous acquisi- 
tion of money. 

This letter has grown to a great length, though it is indeed short 
with regard to the infinite extent of the subject. Various avocations 
have from time to time called my mind from the subject. I was not 
sorry to give myself leisure to observe whether, in the proceedings 
of the National Assembly, I might not find reasons to change or to 
qualify some of my first sentiments. Everything has confirmed me 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 297 

more strongly in my first opinions. It was my original purpose to 
take a view of the principles of the National Assembly with regard 
to the great and fundamental establishments; and to compare the 
whole of what you have substituted in the place of what you have 
destroyed, with the several members of our British constitution. 
But this plan is of a greater extent than at first I computed, and I 
find that you have little desire to take the advantage of any exam- 
ples. At present I must content myself with some remarks upon 
your establishments; reserving for another time what I proposed to 
say concerning the spirit of our British monarchy, aristocracy, and 
democracy, as practically they exist. 

I have taken a view of what has been done by the governing 
power in France. I have certainly spoke of it with freedom. Those 
whose principle it is to despise the ancient, permanent sense of man- 
kind, and to set up a scheme of society on new principles, must 
naturally expect that such of us, who think better of the judgment 
of the human race than of theirs, should consider both them and 
their devices, as men and schemes upon their trial. They must take 
it for granted that we attend much to their reason, but not at all to 
their authority. They have not one of the great influencing preju- 
dices of mankind in their favor. They avow their hostility to opin- 
ion. Of course they must expect no support from that influence, 
which, with every other authority, they have deposed from the seat 
of its jurisdiction. 

I can never consider this Assembly as anything else than a volun- 
tary association of men, who have availed themselves of circum- 
stances to seize upon the power of the state. They have not the 
sanction and authority of the character under which they first met. 
They have assumed another of a very different nature; and have 
completely altered and inverted all the relations in which they origi- 
nally stood. They do not hold the authority they exercise under any 
constitutional law of the state. They have departed from the in- 
structions, of the people by whom they were sent; which instruc- 
tions, as the Assembly did not act in virtue of any ancient usage or 
settled law, were the sole source of their authority. The most con- 
siderable of their acts have not been done by great majorities; and 
in this sort of near divisions, which carry only the constructive 



298 EDMUND BURKE 

authority of the whole, strangers will consider reasons as well as reso- 
lutions. 

If they had set up this new experimental government, as a neces- 
sary substitute for an expelled tyranny, mankind would anticipate 
the time of prescription, which, through long usage, mellows into 
legality governments that were violent in their commencement. All 
those who have affections which lead them to the conservation of 
civil order would recognize, even in its cradle, the child as legiti- 
mate, which has been produced from those principles of cogent ex- 
pediency to which all just governments owe their birth, and on 
which they justify their continuance. But they will be late and re- 
luctant in giving any sort of countenance to the operations of a 
power, which has derived its birth from no law and no necessity; 
but which on the contrary has had its origin in those vices and sin- 
ister practices by which the social union is often disturbed and some- 
times destroyed. This Assembly has hardly a year's prescription. 
We have their own word for it that they have made a revolution. 
To make a revolution is a measure which, prima jronte, requires an 
apology. To make a revolution is to subvert the ancient state of 
our country; and no common reasons are called for to justify so 
violent a proceeding. The sense of mankind authorizes us to exam- 
ine into the mode of acquiring new power, and to criticise on the 
use that is made of it, with less awe and reverence than that which 
is usually conceded to a settled and recognized authority. 

In obtaining and securing their power, the Assembly proceeds 
upon principles the most opposite to those which appear to direct 
them in the use of it. An observation on this difference will let us 
into the true spirit of their conduct. Everything which they have 
done, or continue to do, in order to obtain and keep their power, is 
by the most common arts. They proceed exactly as their ancestors 
of ambition have done before them. Trace them through all their 
artifices, frauds, and violences, you can find nothing at all that is 
new. They follow precedents and examples with the punctilious ex- 
actness of a pleader. They never depart an iota from the authentic 
formulas of tyranny and usurpation. But in all the regulations rela- 
tive to the public good, the spirit has been the very reverse of this. 
There they commit the whole to the mercy of untried speculations; 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 299 

they abandon the dearest interests of the public to those loose the- 
ories, to which none of them would choose to trust the slightest of 
his private concerns. They make this difference, because in their 
desire of obtaining and securing power they are thoroughly in ear- 
nest; there they travel in the beaten road. The public interests, be- 
cause about them they have no real solicitude, they abandon wholly 
to chance: I say to chance, because their schemes have nothing in 
experience to prove their tendency beneficial. 

We must always see with a pity not unmixed with respect, the 
errors of those who are timid and doubtful of themselves with 
regard to points wherein the happiness of mankind is concerned. 
But in these gentlemen there is nothing of the tender, parental 
solicitude, which fears to cut up the infant for the sake of an experi- 
ment. In the vastness of their promises, and the confidence of their 
predictions, they far outdo all the boasting of empirics. The arro- 
gance of their pretensions, in a manner provokes and challenges us 
to an inquiry into their foundation. 

I am convinced that there are men of considerable parts among 
the popular leaders in the National Assembly. Some of them display 
eloquence in their speeches and their writings. This cannot be with- 
out powerful and cultivated talents. But eloquence may exist with- 
out a proportionable degree of wisdom. When I speak of ability, I 
am obliged to distinguish. What they have done towards the sup- 
port of their system bespeaks no ordinary men. In the system itself, 
taken as the scheme of a republic constructed for procuring the pros- 
perity and security of the citizen, and for promoting the strength 
and grandeur of the state, I confess myself unable to find out any- 
thing which displays, in a single instance the work of a comprehen- 
sive and disposing mind, or even the provisions of a vulgar pru- 
dence. Their purpose everywhere seems to have been to evade and 
slip aside from difficulty. This it has been the glory of the great 
masters in all the arts to confront, and to overcome; and when 
they had overcome the first difficulty, to turn it into an instrument 
for new conquests over new difficulties; thus to enable them to ex- 
tend the empire of their science; and even to push forward, beyond 
the reach of their original thoughts, the land-marks of the human 
understanding itself. Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by 



300 EDMUND BURKE 

the supreme ordinance of a parental Guardian and Legislator, who 
knows us better than we know ourselves, as he loves us better too. 
Pater ipse colendi haud facilem esse viam voluit. He that wrestles 
with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill. Our an- 
tagonist is our helper. This amicable conflict with difficulty obliges 
us to an intimate acquaintance with our object, and compels us to 
consider it in all its relations. It will not suffer us to be superficial. 
It is the want of nerves of understanding for such a task, it is the 
degenerate fondness for tricking short-cuts, and little fallacious fa- 
cilities, that has in so many parts of the world created governments 
with arbitrary powers. They have created the late arbitrary mon- 
archy of France. They have created the arbitrary republic of Paris. 
With them defects in wisdom are to be supplied by the plentitude 
of force. They get nothing by it. Commencing their labours on a 
principle of sloth, they have the common fortune of slothful men. 
The difficulties, which they rather had eluded than escaped, meet 
them again in their course; they multiply and thicken on them; 
they are involved, through a labyrinth of confused detail, in an 
industry without limit, and without direction; and, in conclusion, 
the whole of their work becomes feeble, vicious, and insecure. 

It is this inability to wrestle with difficulty which has obliged the 
arbitrary Assembly of France to commence their schemes of reform 
with abolition and total destruction. 44 But is it in destroying and 
pulling down that skill is displayed? Your mob can do this as well 
at least as your assemblies. The shallowest understanding, the rud- 
est hand, is more than equal to that task. Rage and phrensy will 
pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and 
foresight can build up in a hundred years. The errors and defects 
of old establishments are visible and palpable. It calls for little 

44 A leading member of the Assembly, M. Rabaud de St. Etienne, has expressed the 
principle of all their proceedings as clearly as possible. Nothing can be more simple: 
"Tous les etablissemens en France couronnent le malheur du peuple: pour le rendre 
heureux il faut le renouveler; changer ses idees; changer ses loix; changer ses moeurs; 
. . . changer les hommes; changer les chases; changer les mots . . . tout detruire; 
out, tout detruire; puisque tout est a recreer." This gentleman was chosen president 
in an assembly not sitting at the Quinze-vingt, or the Petit s Maisons; and composed 
of persons giving themselves out to be rational beings; but neither his ideas, language, 
or conduct, differ in the smallest degree from the discourses, opinions, and actions 
of those within and without the Assembly, who direct the operations of the machine 
now at work in France. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 30! 

ability to point them out; and where absolute power is given, it 
requires but a word wholly to abolish the vice and the establish- 
ment together. The same lazy but restless disposition, which loves 
sloth and hates quiet, directs the politicians, when they come to 
work for supplying the place of what they have destroyed. To make 
everything the reverse of what they have seen is quite as easy as to 
destroy. No difficulties occur in what has never been tried. Criti- 
cism is almost baffled in discovering the defects of what has not 
existed; and eager enthusiasm and cheating hope have all the wide 
field of imagination, in which they may expatiate with little or no 
opposition. 

At once to preserve and to reform is quite another thing. When 
the useful parts of an old establishment are kept, and what is 
superadded is to be fitted to what is retained, a vigorous mind, 
steady, persevering attention, various powers of comparison and 
combination, and the resources of an understanding fruitful in 
expedients, are to be exercised; they are to be exercised in a contin- 
ued conflict with the combined force of opposite vices, with the ob- 
stinacy that rejects all improvement, and the levity that is fatigued 
and disgusted with everything of which it is in possession. But you 
may object "A process of this kind is slow. It is not fit for an 
assembly, which glories in performing in a few months the work 
of ages. Such a mode of reforming, possibly, might take up many 
years." Without question it might; and it ought. It is one of the 
excellencies of a method in which time is amongst the assistants, 
that its operation is slow, and in some cases almost imperceptible. 
If circumspection and caution are a part of wisdom, when we work 
only upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty too, 
when the subject of our demolition and construction is not brick 
and timber, but sentient beings, by the sudden alteration of whose 
state, condition, and habits, multitudes may be rendered miserable. 
But it seems as if it were the prevalent opinion in Paris, that an 
unfeeling heart, and an undoubting confidence, are the sole quali- 
fications for a perfect legislator. Far different are my ideas of that 
high office. The true lawgiver ought to have a heart full of sensi- 
bility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself. 
It may be allowed to his temperament to catch his ultimate object 



302 EDMUND BURKE 

with an intuitive glance; but his movements towards it ought to be 
deliberate. Political arrangement, as it is a work for social ends, is 
to be only wrought by social means. There mind must conspire 
with mind. Time is required to produce that union of minds which 
alone can produce all the good we aim at. Our patience will achieve 
more than our force. If I might venture to appeal to what is so 
much out of fashion in Paris, I mean to experience, I should tell 
you, that in my course I have known, and, according to my measure, 
have co-operated with great men; and I have never yet seen any 
plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who 
were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the 
lead in the business. By a slow but well-sustained progress, the 
effect of each step is watched; the good or ill success of the first gives 
light to us in the second; and so, from light to light, we are con- 
ducted with safety through the whole series. We see that the parts 
or the system do not clash. The evils latent in the most promising 
contrivances are provided for as they arise. One advantage is as 
little as possible sacrificed to another. We compensate, we reconcile, 
we balance. We are enabled to unite into a consistent whole the 
various anomalies and contending principles that are found in the 
minds and affairs of men. From hence arises, not an excellence in 
simplicity, but one far superior, an excellence in composition. 
Where the great interests of mankind are concerned through a long 
succession of generations, that succession ought to be admitted into 
some share in the councils, which are so deeply to affect them. If 
justice requires this, the work itself requires the aid of more minds 
than one age can furnish. It is from this view of things that the 
best legislators have been often satisfied with the establishment of 
some sure, solid, and ruling principle in government; a power like 
that which some of the philosophers have called a plastic nature; 
and having fixed the principle, they have left it afterwards to its 
own operation. 

To proceed in this manner, that is, to proceed with a presiding 
principle, and a prolific energy, is with me the criterion of pro- 
found wisdom. What your politicians think the marks of a bold, 
hardy genius, are only proofs of a deplorable want of ability. By 
their violent haste and their defiance of the process of nature, they 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 303 

are delivered over blindly to every projector and adventurer, to 
every alchymist and empiric. They despair of turning to account 
anything that is common. Diet is nothing in their system of remedy. 
The worst of it is, that this their despair of curing common distem- 
pers by regular methods, arises not only from defect of compre- 
hension, but, I fear, from some malignity of disposition. Your legis- 
lators seem to have taken their opinions of all professions, ranks, and 
offices, from the declamations and buffooneries of satirists; who 
would themselves be astonished if they were held to the letter of 
their own descriptions. By listening only to these, your leaders re- 
gard all things only on the side of their vices and faults, and view 
those vices and faults under every colour of exaggeration. It is un- 
doubtedly true, though it may seem paradoxical; but in general, 
those who are habitually employed in finding and displaying faults, 
are unqualified for the work of reformation : because their minds are 
not only unfurnished with patterns of the fair and good, but by 
habit they come to take no delight in the contemplation of those 
things. By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little. 
It is therefore not wonderful, that they should be indisposed and 
unable to serve them. From hence arises the complexional disposi- 
tion of some of your guides to pull everything in pieces. At this 
malicious game they display the whole of their quadrimanous ac- 
tivity. As to the rest, the paradoxes of eloquent writers, brought 
forth purely as a sport of fancy, to try their talents, to rouse atten- 
tion and excite surprise, are taken up by these gentlemen, not in the 
spirit of the original authors, as means of cultivating their taste and 
improving their style. These paradoxes become with them serious 
grounds of action, upon which they proceed in regulating the most 
important concerns of the state. Cicero ludicrously describes Cato 
as endeavouring to act, in the commonwealth, upon the school para- 
doxes, which exercised the wits of the junior students in the 
Stoic philosophy. If this was true of Cato, these gentlemen copy 
after him in the manner of some persons who lived about his time 
pede nudo Catonem. Mr. Hume told me that he had from Rousseau 
himself the secret of his principles of composition. That acute 
though eccentric observer had perceived, that to strike and interest 
the public, the marvellous must be produced; that the marvellous of 



304 EDMUND BURKE 

the heathen mythology had long since lost its effect; that giants, 
magicians, fairies, and heroes of romance which succeeded, had ex- 
hausted the portion of credulity which belonged to their age; that 
now nothing was left to the writer but that species of the marvel- 
lous which might still be produced, and with as great an effect as 
ever, though in another way; that is, the marvellous in life, in man- 
ners, in characters, and in extraordinary situations, giving rise to 
new and unlooked-for strokes in politics and morals. I believe, that 
were Rousseau alive, and in one of his lucid intervals, he would be 
shocked at the practical phrensy of his scholars, who in their para- 
doxes are servile imitators, and even in their incredulity discover an 
implicit faith. 

Men who undertake considerable things, even in a regular way, 
ought to give us ground to presume ability. But the physician of the 
state, who, not satisfied with the cure of distempers, undertakes to 
regenerate constitutions, ought to show uncommon powers. Some 
very unusual appearances of wisdom ought to display themselves 
on the face of the designs of those, who appeal to no practice, and 
who copy after no model. Has any such been manifested? I shall 
take a view (it shall for the subject be a very short one) of what 
the Assembly has done, with regard, first, to the constitution of the 
legislature; in the next place, to that of the executive power; then 
to that of the judicature; afterwards to the model of the army; and 
conclude with the system of finance; to see whether we can discover 
in any part of their schemes the portentous ability, which may justify 
these bold undertakers in the superiority which they assume over 
mankind. 

It is in the model of the sovereign and presiding part of this new 
republic, that we should expect their grand display. Here they were 
to prove their title to their proud demands. For the plan itself at 
large, and for the reasons on which it is grounded, I refer to the 
journals of the Assembly of the 2pth of September, 1789, and to the 
subsequent proceedings which have made any alterations in the 
plan. So far as in a matter somewhat confused I can see light, 
the system remains substantially as it has been originally framed. 
My few remarks will be such as regard its spirit, its tendency, 
and its fitness for framing a popular commonwealth, which 



OK THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 305 

they profess theirs to be, suited to the ends for which any common- 
wealth, and particularly such a commonwealth, is made. At the 
same time, I mean to consider its consistency with itself and its own 
principles. 

Old establishments are tried by their effects. If the people are 
happy, united, wealthy, and powerful, we presume the rest. We 
conclude that to be good from whence good is derived. In old estab- 
lishments various correctives have been found for their aberrations 
from theory. Indeed they are the results of various necessities and 
expediences. They are not often constructed after any theory; the- 
ories are rather drawn from them. In them we often see the end 
best obtained, where the means seem not perfectly reconcilable to 
what we may fancy was the original scheme. The means taught by 
experience may be better suited to political ends than those con- 
trived in the original project. They again react upon the primitive 
constitution, and sometimes improve the design itself, from which 
they seem to have departed. I think all this might be curiously ex- 
emplified in the British Constitution. At worst, the errors and 
deviations of every kind in reckoning are found and computed, and 
the ship proceeds in her course. This is the case of old establish- 
ments; but in a new and merely theoretic system, it is expected that 
every contrivance shall appear, on the face of it, to answer its ends; 
especially where the projectors are no way embarrassed with an en- 
deavour to accommodate the new building to an old one, neither in 
the walls or on the foundations. 

The French builders, clearing away as mere rubbish whatever 
they found, and, like their ornamental gardeners, forming every- 
thing into an exact level, propose to rest the whole local and general 
legislature on three bases of three different kinds; one geometrical, 
one arithmetical, and the third financial; the first of which they call 
the basis of territory; the second, the basis of population; and the 
third, the basis of contribution. For the accomplishment of the first 
of these purposes, they divide the area of their country into eighty- 
three pieces, regularly square, of eighteen leagues by eighteen. These 
large divisions are called Departments. These they portion, proceed- 
ing by square measurement, into seventeen hundred and twenty dis- 
tricts, called Communes. These again they subdivide, still proceed- 



306 EDMUND BURKE 

ing by square measurement, into smaller districts called Cantons, 
making in all 6400. 

At first view this geometrical basis of theirs, presents not much 
to admire or to blame. It calls for no great legislative talents. Noth- 
ing more than an accurate land surveyor, with his chain, sight, and 
theodolite, is requisite for such a plan as this. In the old divisions of 
the country, various accidents at various times, and the ebb and flow 
of various properties and jurisdictions, settled their bounds. These 
bounds were not made upon any fixed system undoubtedly. They 
were subject to some inconveniences: but they were inconveniences 
for which use had found remedies, and habit had supplied accom- 
modation and patience. In this new pavement of square within 
square, and this organization, and semi-organization, made on the 
system of Empedocles and BufTon, and not upon any politic prin- 
ciple, it is impossible that innumerable local inconveniences, to which 
men are not habituated, must not arise. But these I pass over, be- 
cause it requires an accurate knowledge of the country, which I do 
not possess, to specify them. 

When these state surveyors came to take a view of their work of 
measurement they soon found, that in politics the most fallacious of 
all things was geometrical demonstration. They had then recourse 
to another basis (or rather buttress) to support the building, which 
tottered on that false foundation. It was evident, that the goodness 
of the soil, the number of the people, their wealth, and the large- 
ness of their contribution, made such infinite variations between 
square and square, as to render mensuration a ridiculous standard 
of power in the commonwealth, and equality in geometry the most 
unequal of all measures in the distribution of men. However, they 
could not give it up. But dividing their political and civil represen- 
tation into three parts, they allotted one of those parts to the square 
measurement, without a single fact or calculation to ascertain 
whether this territorial proportion of representation was fairly as- 
signed, and ought upon any principle really to be a third. Having 
however given to geometry this portion (of a third for her dower) 
out of compliment, I suppose, to that sublime science, they left the 
other two to be scuffled for between the other parts, population and 
contribution. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 307 

When they came to provide for population, they were not able to 
proceed quite so smoothly as they had done in the field of their 
geometry. Here their arithmetic came to bear upon their juridical 
metaphysics. Had they stuck to their metaphysic principles, the 
arithmetical process would be simple indeed. Men, with them, are 
strictly equal, and are entitled to equal rights in their own govern- 
ment. Each head, on this system, would have its vote, and every man 
would vote directly for the person who was to represent him in the 
legislature. "But soft by regular degrees, not yet." This meta- 
physic principle, to which law, custom, usage, policy, reason, were 
to yield, is to yield itself to their pleasure. There must be many 
degrees, and some stages, before the representative can come in con- 
tact with his constituent. Indeed, as we shall soon see, these two 
persons are to have no sort of communion with each other. First, 
the voters in the Canton, who compose what they call primary 
assemblies, are to have a qualification. What! a qualification on 
the indefeasible rights of men? Yes; but it shall be a very small 
qualification. Our injustice shall be very little oppressive; only the 
local valuation of three days' labour paid to the public. Why, this 
is not much, I readily admit, for anything but the utter subversion 
of your equalising principle. As a qualification it might as well be 
let alone; for it answers no one purpose for which qualifications are 
established; and, on your ideas, it excludes from a vote the man of 
all others whose natural equality stands the most in need of pro- 
tection and defence: I mean the man who has nothing else but his 
natural equality to guard him. You order him to buy the right, 
which you before told him nature had given to him gratuitously at 
his birth, and of which no authority on earth could lawfully deprive 
him. With regard to the person who cannot come up to your mar- 
ket, a tyrannous aristocracy, as against him, is established at the 
very outset, by you who pretend to be its sworn foe. 

The gradation proceeds. These primary assemblies of the Canton 
elect deputies to the Commune; one for every two hundred qualified 
inhabitants. Here is the first medium put between the primary 
elector and the representative legislator; and here a new turnpike is 
fixed for taxing the rights of men with a second qualification: for 
none can be elected into the Commune who does not pay the 



308 EDMUND BURKE 

amount of ten days' labour. Nor have we yet done. There is still 
to be another gradation. 45 These Communes, chosen by the Canton, 
choose to the Department; and the deputies of the Department 
choose their deputies to the National Assembly. Here is a third 
barrier of a senseless qualification. Every deputy to the National 
Assembly must pay, in direct contribution, to the value of a mar^ 
of silver. Of all these qualifying barriers we must think alike; that 
they are impotent to secure independence; strong only to destroy the 
rights of men. 

In all this process, which in its fundamental elements affects to 
consider only population upon a principle of natural right, there is 
a manifest attention to property; which, however just and reason- 
able on other schemes, is on theirs perfectly unsupportable. 

When they come to their third basis, that of Contribution, we 
find that they have more completely lost sight of their rights of men. 
This last basis rests entirely on property. A principle totally differ- 
ent from the equality of men, and utterly irreconcilable to it, is 
thereby admitted; but no sooner is this principle admitted, than 
(as usual) it is subverted; and it is not subverted (as we shall pres- 
ently see) to approximate the inequality of riches to the level of 
nature. The additional share in the third portion of representation 
(a portion reserved exclusively for the higher contribution) is made 
to regard the district only, and not the individuals in it who pay. It 
is easy to perceive, by the course of their reasonings, how much they 
were embarrassed by their contradictory ideas of the rights of men 
and the privileges of riches. The committee of constitution do as 
good as admit that they are wholly irreconcilable. "The relation 
with regard to the contributions, is without doubt null (say they) 
when the question is on the balance of the political rights as between 
individual and individual; without which personal equality would 
be destroyed, and an aristocracy of the rich would be established. 
But this inconvenience entirely disappears when the proportional 

45 The Assembly, in executing the plan of their committee, made some alterations. 
They have struck out one stage in these gradations; this removes a part of the 
objection; but the main objection, namely, that in their scheme the first constituent 
voter has no connexion with the representative legislator, remains in all its force. 
There are other alterations, some possibly for the better, some certainly for the worse; 
but to the author the merit or demerit of these smaller alterations appears to be of no 
moment, where the scheme itself is fundamentally vicious and absurd. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 309 

relation of the contribution is only considered in the great masses, 
and is solely between province and province; it serves in that case 
only to form a just reciprocal proportion between the cities, without 
affecting the personal rights of the citizens." 

Here the principle of contribution, as taken between man and 
man, is reprobated as null, and destructive to equality and as per- 
nicious too; because it leads to the establishment of an aristocracy 
of the rich. However, it must not be abandoned. And the way of 
getting nd of the difficulty is to establish the inequality as between 
department and department, leaving all the individuals in each de- 
partment upon an exact par. Observe, that this parity between in- 
dividuals had been before destroyed, when the qualifications within 
the departments were settled; nor does it seem a matter of great 
importance whether the equality of men be injured by masses or in- 
dividually. An individual is not of the same importance in a mass 
represented by a few, as in a mass represented by many. It would 
be too much to tell a man jealous of his equality, that the elector has 
the same franchise who votes for three members as he who votes 
for ten. 

Now take it in the other point of view, and let us suppose their 
principle of representation according to contribution, that is, accord- 
ing to riches, to be well imagined, and to be a necessary basis for 
their republic. In this their third basis they assume, that riches ought 
to be respected, and that justice and policy require that they should 
entitle men, in some mode or other, to a larger share in the admin- 
istration of public affairs; it is now to be seen how the Assembly 
provides for the pre-eminence, or even for the security, of the rich, 
by conferring, in virtue of their opulence, that larger measure of 
power to their district which is denied to them personally. I readily 
admit (indeed I should lay it down as a fundamental principle) 
that in a republican government, which has a democratic basis, the 
rich do require an additional security above what is necessary to 
them in monarchies. They are subject to envy, and through envy 
to oppression. On the present scheme it is impossible to divine 
what advantage they derive from the aristocratic preference upon 
which the unequal representation of the masses is founded. The 
rich cannot feel it, either as a support to dignity, or as security 



3IO EDMUND BURKE 

to fortune: for the aristocratic mass is generated from purely demo- 
cratic principles; and the preference given to it in the general repre- 
sentation has no sort of reference to, or connexion with, the persons, 
upon account of whose property this superiority of the mass is estab- 
lished. If the contrivers of this scheme meant any sort of favour 
to the rich, in consequence of their contribution, they ought to have 
conferred the privilege either on the individual rich, or on some 
class formed of rich persons (as historians represent Servius Tullius 
to have done in the early constitution of Rome) ; because the con- 
test between the rich and the poor is not a struggle between cor- 
poration and corporation, but a contest between men and men; a 
competition not between districts, but between descriptions. It 
would answer its purpose better if the scheme were inverted; that 
the votes of the masses were rendered equal; and that the votes 
within each mass were proportioned to property. 

Let us suppose one man in a district (it is an easy supposition) to 
contribute as much as an hundred of his neighbours. Against these 
he has but one vote. If there were but one representative for the 
mass, his poor neighbours would outvote him by an hundred to 
one for that single representative. Bad enough. But amends are to 
be made him. How? The district, in virtue of his wealth, is to 
choose, say ten members instead of one: that is to say, by paying a 
very large contribution he has the happiness of being outvoted, an 
hundred to one, by the poor, for ten representatives, instead of being 
outvoted exactly in the same proportion for a single member. In 
truth, instead of benefiting by this superior quantity of representa- 
tion, the rich man is subjected to an additional hardship. The in- 
crease of representation within his province sets up nine persons 
more, and as many more than nine as there may be democratic 
candidates, to cabal and intrigue, and to flatter the people at his 
expense and to his oppression. An interest is by this means held out 
to multitudes of the inferior sort, in obtaining a salary of eighteen 
livres a day, (to them a vast object,) besides the pleasure of a resi- 
dence in Paris, and their share in the government of the kingdom. 
The more the objects of ambition are multiplied and become demo- 
cratic, just in that proportion the rich are endangered. 

Thus it must fare between the poor and the rich in the province 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 31 1 

deemed aristocratic, which in its internal relation is the very re- 
verse of that character. In its external relation, that is, its relation 
to the other provinces, I cannot see how the unequal representation, 
which is given to masses on account of wealth, becomes the means 
of preserving the equipoise and the tranquillity of the common- 
wealth. For if it be one of the objects to secure the weak from 
being crushed by the strong, (as in all society undoubtedly it is,) 
how are the smaller and poorer of these masses to be saved from 
the tyranny of the more wealthy? Is it by adding to the wealthy 
further and more systematical means of oppressing them ? When we 
come to a balance of representation between corporate bodies, pro- 
vincial interests, emulations, and jealousies are full as likely to arise 
among them as among individuals; and their divisions are likely 
to produce a much hotter spirit of dissension, and something leading 
much more nearly to a war. 

I see that these aristocratic masses are made upon what is called 
the principle of direct contribution. Nothing can be a more un- 
equal standard than this. The indirect contribution, that which 
arises from duties on consumption, is in truth a better standard, and 
follows and discovers wealth more naturally than this of direct con- 
tribution. It is difficult indeed to fix a standard of local preference 
on account of the one, or of the other, or of both, because some 
provinces may pay the more of either or of both, on account of 
causes not intrinsic, but originating from those very districts over 
whom they have obtained a preference in consequence of their 
ostensible contribution. If the masses were independent, sovereign 
bodies, who were to provide for a federative treasury by distinct 
contingents, and that the revenue had not (as it has) many imposi- 
tions running through the whole, which affect men individually, 
and not corporately, and which, by their nature, confound all terri- 
torial limits, something might be said for the basis of contribution 
as founded on masses. But of all things, this representation, to be 
measured by contribution, is the most difficult to settle upon princi- 
ples of equity in a country, which considers its districts as members 
of a whole. For a great city, such as Bourdeaux, or Paris, appears 
to pay a vast body of duties, almost out of all assignable proportion 
to other places, and its mass is considered accordingly. But are these 



312 EDMUND BURKE 

cities the true contributors in that proportion? No. The consumers 
of the commodities imported into Bourdeaux, who are scattered 
through all France, pay the import duties of Bourdeaux. The prod- 
uce of the vintage in Guienne and Languedoc, give to that city the 
means of its contribution growing out of an export commerce. The 
landholders who spend their estates in Paris, and are thereby the 
creators of that city, contribute for Paris from the provinces out of 
which their revenues arise. Very nearly the same arguments will 
apply to the representative share given on account of direct contri- 
butions: because the direct contribution must be assessed on wealth 
real or presumed; and that local wealth will itself arise from causes 
not local, and which therefore in equity ought not to produce a 
local preference. 

It is very remarkable, that in this fundamental regulation, which 
settles the representation of the mass upon the direct contribution, 
they have not yet settled how that direct contribution shall be laid, 
and how apportioned. Perhaps there is some latent policy towards 
the continuance of the present Assembly in this strange procedure. 
However, until they do this, they can have no certain constitution. 
It must depend at last upon the system of taxation, and must vary 
with every variation in that system. As they have contrived mat- 
ters, their taxation does not so much depend on their constitution, 
as their constitution on their taxation. This must introduce great 
confusion among the masses; as the variable qualification for votes 
within the district must, if ever real contested elections take place, 
cause infinite internal controversies. 

To compare together the three bases, not on their political reason, 
but on the ideas on which the Assembly works, and to try its con- 
sistency with itself, we cannot avoid observing, that the principle 
which the committee call the basis of population, does not begin to 
operate from the same point with the two other principles called 
the bases of territory and of contribution, which are both of an aris- 
tocratic nature. The consequence is, that, where all three begin to 
operate together, there is the most absurd inequality produced by 
the operation of the former on the two latter principles. Every can- 
ton contains four square leagues, and is estimated to contain, on the 
average, 4000 inhabitants, or 680 voters in the primary assemblies, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 313 

which vary in numbers with the population of the canton, and send 
one deputy to the commune for every 200 voters. Nine cantons make 
a commune. 

Now let us take a canton containing a sea-port town of trade, or 
a great manufacturing town. Let us suppose the population of this 
canton to be 12,700 inhabitants, or 2193 voters, forming three pri- 
mary assemblies, and sending ten deputies to the commune. 

Oppose to this one canton two others of the remaining eight in the 
same commune. These we may suppose to have their fair popula- 
tion of 4000 inhabitants and 680 voters each, or 8000 inhabitants and 
1360 voters, both together. These will form only two primary assem- 
blies, and send only six deputies to the commune. 

When the assembly of the commune comes to vote on the basis of 
territory, which principle is first admitted to operate in that assem- 
bly, the single canton, which has half the territory of the other two, 
will have ten voices to six in the election of three deputies to the 
assembly of the department, chosen on the express ground of a 
representation of territory. This inequality, striking as it is, will 
be yet highly aggravated, if we suppose, as we fairly may, the sev- 
eral other cantons of the commune to fall proportionably short of 
the average population, as much as the principal canton exceeds it. 

Now as to the basis of contribution, which also is a principle ad- 
mitted first to operate in the assembly of the commune. Let us 
again take one canton, such as is stated above. If the whole of the 
direct contributions paid by a great trading or manufacturing town 
be divided equally among the inhabitants, each individual will be 
found to pay much more than an individual living in the country 
according to the same average. The whole paid by the inhabitants 
of the former will be more than the whole paid by the inhabitants 
of the latter we may fairly assume one-third more. Then the 
12,700 inhabitants, or 2193 voters of the canton, will pay as much 
as 19,050 inhabitants, or 3289 voters of the other cantons, which are 
nearly the estimated proportion of inhabitants and voters of five 
other cantons. Now the 2193 voters will, as I before said, send only 
ten deputies to the assembly; the 3289 voters will send sixteen. Thus, 
for an equal share in the contribution of the whole commune, there 
will be a difference of sixteen voices to ten in voting for deputies 



314 EDMUND BURKE 

to be chosen on the principle of representing the general contribu- 
tion of the whole commune. 

By the same mode of computation we shall find 15,875 inhabit- 
ants, or 2741 voters of the other cantons, who pay one-sixth LESS to 
the contribution of the whole commune, will have three VOICES 
MORE than the 12,700 inhabitants, or 2193 voters of the one canton. 

Such is the fantastical and unjust inequality between mass and 
mass, in this curious repartition of the rights of representation aris- 
ing out of territory and contribution. The qualifications which 
these confer are in truth negative qualifications, that give a right in 
an inverse proportion to the possession of them. 

In this whole contrivance of the three bases, consider it in any 
light you please, I do not see a variety of objects reconciled in one 
consistent whole, but several contradictory principles reluctantly and 
irreconcilably brought and held together by your philosophers, like 
wild beasts shut up in a cage, to claw and bite each other to their 
mutual destruction. 

I am afraid I have gone too far into their way of considering the 
formation of a constitution. They have much, but bad, metaphysics; 
much, but bad, geometry; much, but false, proportionate arithme- 
tic; but if it were all as exact as metaphysics, geometry, and arith- 
metic ought to be, and if their schemes were perfectly consistent 
in all their parts, it would make only a more fair and sightly vision. 
It is remarkable, that, in a great arrangement of mankind, not one 
reference whatsoever is to be found to anything moral or anything 
politic; nothing that relates to the concerns, the actions, the passions, 
the interests of men. Hominem non sapiunt. 

You see I only consider this constitution as electoral, and leading 
by steps to the National Assembly. I do not enter into the internal 
government of the departments, and their genealogy through the 
communes and cantons. These local governments are, in the origi- 
nal plan, to be as nearly as possible composed in the same manner 
and on the same principles with the elective assemblies. They are 
each of them bodies perfectly compact and rounded in themselves. 

You cannot but perceive in this scheme, that it has a direct and 
immediate tendency to sever France into a variety of republics, and 
to render them totally independent of each other without any direct 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 315 

constitutional means of coherence, connexion, or subordination, ex- 
cept what may be derived from their acquiescence in the determina- 
tions of the general congress of the ambassadors from each inde- 
pendent republic. Such in reality is the National Assembly, and 
such governments I admit do exist in the world, though in forms 
infinitely more suitable to the local and habitual circumstances of 
their people. But such associations, rather than bodies politic, have 
generally been the effect of necessity, not choice; and I believe the 
present French power is the very first body of citizens, who, having 
obtained full authority to do with their country what they pleased, 
have chosen to dissever it in this barbarous manner. 

It is impossible not to observe, that, in the spirit of this geometri- 
cal distribution, and arithmetical arrangement, these pretended citi- 
zens treat France exactly like a country of conquest. Acting as con- 
querors, they have imitated the policy of the harshest of that harsh 
race. The policy of such barbarous victors, who contemn a subdued 
people, and insult their feelings, has ever been, as much as in them 
lay, to destroy all vestiges of the ancient country, in religion, in 
polity, in laws, and in manners; to confound all territorial limits; 
to produce a general poverty; to put up their properties to auction; 
to crush their princes, nobles, and pontiffs; to lay low everything 
which had lifted its head above the level, or which could serve to 
combine or rally, in their distresses, the disbanded people, under 
the standard of old opinion. They have made France free in the 
manner in which those sincere friends to the rights of mankind, the 
Romans, freed Greece, Macedon, and other nations. They de- 
stroyed the bonds of their union, under colour of providing for the 
independence of each of their cities. 

When the members who compose these new bodies of cantons, 
communes, and departments, arrangements purposely produced 
through the medium of confusion, begin to act, they will find them- 
selves in a great measure strangers to one another. The electors and 
elected throughout, especially in the rural cantons, will be frequently 
without any civil habitudes or connexions, or any of that natural dis- 
cipline which is the soul of a true republic. Magistrates and col- 
lectors of revenue are now no longer acquainted with their districts, 
bishops with their dioceses, or curates with their parishes. These 



3l6 EDMUND BURKE 

new colonies of the rights of men bear a strong resemblance to that 
sort of military colonies which Tacitus has observed upon in the 
declining policy of Rome. In better and wiser days (whatever course 
they took with foreign nations) they were careful to make the ele- 
ments of methodical subordination and settlement to be coeval; and 
even to lay the foundations of civil discipline in the military. 46 But, 
when all the good arts had fallen into ruin, they proceeded, as your 
Assembly does, upon the equality of men, and with as little judg- 
ment, and as little care for those things which make a republic tol- 
erable or durable. But in this, as well as almost every instance, 
your new commonwealth is born, and bred, and fed, in those cor- 
ruptions which mark degenerated and worn-out republics. Your 
child comes into the world with the symptoms of death; the fades 
Hippocratica forms the character of its physiognomy, and the prog- 
nostic of its fate. 

The legislators who framed the ancient republics knew that their 
business was too arduous to be accomplished with no better ap- 
paratus than the metaphysics of an undergraduate, and the mathe- 
matics and arithmetic of an exciseman. They had to do with men, 
and they were obliged to study human nature. They had to do 
with citizens, and they were obliged to study the effects of those 
habits which are communicated by the circumstances of civil life. 
They were sensible that the operation of this second nature on the 
first produced a new combination; and thence arose many diver- 
sities amongst men, according to their birth, their education, their 
professions, the periods of their lives, their residence in towns or 
in the country, their several ways of acquiring and of fixing prop- 
erty, and according to the quality of the property itself, all which 
rendered them as it were so many different species of animals. 
From hence they thought themselves obliged to dispose their citi- 
zens into such classes, and to place them in such situations in the 
state, as their peculiar habits might qualify them to fill, and to 
allot to them such appropriated privileges as might secure to them 

46 Non, ut olim, universae legiones deducebantur cum tribunis, et centurionibus, et 
sui cujusque ordinis militibus, ut consensu et caritate rempublicam afficerent; sed 
ignoti inter se, diversis manipulis, sine rectore, sine afTectibus mutuis, quasi ex alio 
genere mortalium, repente in unum collecti, numerus magis quam colonia. Tac. 
Annal. 1. 14, sect. 27. All this will be still more applicable to the unconnected, 
rotatory, biennial national assemblies, in this absurd and senseless constitution. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 317 

what their specific occasions required, and which might furnish 
to each description such force as might protect it in the conflict 
caused by the diversity of interests, that must exist, and must con- 
tend, in all complex society: for the legislator would have been 
ashamed, that the coarse husbandman should well know how to 
assort and to use his sheep, horses, and oxen, and should have enough 
of common sense, not to abstract and equalize them all into ani- 
mals, without providing for each kind an appropriate food, care, and 
employment; whilst he, the economist, disposer, and shepherd of 
his own kindred, subliming himself into an airy metaphysician, was 
resolved to know nothing of his flocks but as men in general. It is 
for this reason that Montesquieu observed very justly, that in their 
classification of the citizens, the great legislators of antiquity made 
the greatest display of their powers, and even soared above them- 
selves. It is here that your modern legislators have gone deep into 
the negative series, and sunk even below their own nothing. As the 
first sort of legislators attended to the different kinds of citizens, 
and combined them into one commonwealth, the others, the meta- 
physical and alchemistical legislators, have taken the direct contrary 
course. They have attempted to confound all sorts of citizens, as 
well as they could, into one homogeneous mass; and then they di- 
vided this their amalgama into a number of incoherent republics. 
They reduce men to loose counters, merely for the sake of simple 
telling, and not to figures whose power is to arise from their place 
in the table. The elements of their own metaphysics might have 
taught them better lessons. The troll of their categorical table might 
have informed them that there was something else in the intellec- 
tual world besides substance and quantity. They might learn from 
the catechism of metaphysics that there were eight heads more, 47 in 
every complex deliberation, which they have never thought of; 
though these, of all the ten, are the subjects on which the skill of 
man can operate anything at all. 

So far from this able disposition of some of the old republican 
legislators, which follows with a solicitous accuracy the moral 
conditions and propensities of men, they have levelled and crushed 
together all the orders which they found, even under the coarse 

47 Qualitas, Relatio, Actio, Passio, Ubi, Quando, Situs, Habitus. 



318 EDMUND BURKE 

unartificial arrangement of the monarchy, in which mode of govern- 
ment the classing of the citizens is not of so much importance as 
in a republic. It is true, however, that every such classification, if 
properly ordered, is good in all forms of government; and com- 
poses a strong barrier against the excesses of despotism, as well as it 
is the necessary means of giving effect and permanence to a repub- 
lic. For want of something of this kind, if the present project of a 
republic should fail, all securities to a moderated freedom fail 
along with it; all the indirect restraints which mitigate despotism 
are removed; insomuch that if monarchy should ever again obtain 
an entire ascendancy in France, under this or under any other dy- 
nasty, it will probably be, if not voluntarily tempered, at setting out, 
by the wise and virtuous counsels of the prince, the most completely 
arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth. This is to play a 
most desperate game. 

The confusion which attends on all such proceedings, they even 
declare to be one of their objects, and they hope to secure their con- 
stitution by a terror of a return of those evils which attended their 
making it. "By this," say they, "its destruction will become diffi- 
cult to authority, which cannot break it up without the entire dis- 
organization of the whole state." They presume, that if this au- 
thority should ever come to the same degree of power that they have 
acquired, it would make a more moderate and chastised use of it, 
and would piously tremble entirely to disorganize the state in the 
savage manner that they have done. They expect, from the virtues 
of returning despotism, the security which is to be enjoyed by the 
offspring of their popular vices. 

I wish, Sir, that you and my readers would give an attentive 
perusal to the work of M. de Calonne, on this subject. It is indeed 
not only an eloquent, but an able and instructive, performance. I 
confine myself to what he says relative to the constitution of the 
new state, and to the condition of the revenue. As to the disputes 
of this minister with his rivals, I do not wish to pronounce upon 
them. As little do I mean to hazard any opinion concerning his 
ways and means, financial or political, for taking his country out 
of its present disgraceful and deplorable situation of servitude, 
anarchy, bankruptcy, and beggary. I cannot speculate quite so san- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 319 

guinely as he does: but he is a Frenchman, and has a closer duty 
relative to those objects, and better means of judging o them, than 
I can have. I wish that the formal avowal which he refers to, made 
by one of the principal leaders in the Assembly, concerning the tend- 
ency of their scheme to bring France not only from a monarchy 
to a republic, but from a republic to a mere confederacy, may be 
very particularly attended to. It adds new force to my observations: 
and indeed M. de Calonne's work supplies my deficiencies by many 
new and striking arguments on most of the subjects of this letter. 48 
It is this resolution, to break their country into separate republics, 
which has driven them into the greatest number of their difficulties 
and contradictions. If it were not for this, all the questions of 
exact equality, and these balances, never to be settled, of individual 
rights, population, and contribution, would be wholly useless. The 
representation, though derived from parts, would be a duty which 
equally regarded the whole. Each deputy to the Assembly would 
be the representative of France, and of all its descriptions, of the 
many and of the few, of the rich and of the poor, of the great dis- 
tricts and of the small. All these districts would themselves be sub- 
ordinate to some standing authority, existing independently of them, 
an authority in which their representation, and everything that be- 
longs to it, originated, and to which it was pointed. This standing, 
unalterable, fundamental government would make, and it is the 
only thing which could make, that territory truly and properly a 
whole. With us, when we elect popular representatives, we send 
them to a council, in which each man individually is a subject, and 
submitted to a government complete in all its ordinary functions. 
With you the elective Assembly is the sovereign, and the sole sover- 
eign; all the members are therefore integral parts of this sole sover- 
eignty. But with us it is totally different. With us the representa- 
tive, separated from the other parts, can have no action and no exist- 
ence. The government is the point of reference of the several mem- 
bers and districts of our representation. This is the centre of our 
unity. This government of reference is a trustee for the whole, and 
not for the parts. So is the other branch of our public council, I 
mean the House of Lords. With us the king and the lords are 

48 See 1'Etat de la France, p. 363. 



32O EDMUND BURKE 

several and joint securities for the equality of each district, each 
province, each city. When did you hear in Great Britain of any 
province suffering from the inequality of its representation; what 
district from having no representation at all? Not only our mon- 
archy and our peerage secure the equality on which our unity de- 
pends, but it is the spirit of the House of Commons itself. The 
very inequality of representation, which is so foolishly complained 
of, is perhaps the very thing which prevents us from thinking or 
acting as members for districts. Cornwall elects as many members 
as all Scotland. But is Cornwall better taken care of than Scotland ? 
Few trouble their heads about any of your bases, out of some giddy 
clubs. Most of those who wish for any change, upon any plausible 
grounds, desire it on different ideas. 

Your new constitution is the very reverse of ours in its princi- 
ple; and I am astonished how any persons could dream of holding 
out anything done in it, as an example for Great Britain. With 
you there is little, or rather no, connexion between the last repre- 
sentative and the first constituent. The member who goes to the 
National Assembly is not chosen by the people, nor accountable to 
them. There are three elections before he is chosen: two sets of 
magistracy intervene between him and the primary assembly, so as 
to render him, as I have said, an ambassador of a state, and not 
the representative of the people within a state. By this the whole 
spirit of the election is changed; nor can any corrective, which your 
constitution-mongers have devised, render him anything else than 
what he is. The very attempt to do it would inevitably introduce 
a confusion, if possible, more horrid than the present. There is no 
way to make a connexion between the original constituent and the 
representative, but by the circuitous means which may lead the 
candidate to apply in the first instance to the primary electors, in 
order that by their authoritative instructions (and something more 
perhaps) these primary electors may force the two succeeding bodies 
of electors to make a choice agreeable to their wishes. But this 
would plainly subvert the whole scheme. It would be to plunge 
them back into that tumult and confusion of popular election, 
which, by their interposed gradation of elections, they mean to 
avoid, and at length to risk the whole fortune of the state with those 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 32! 

who have the least knowledge of it, and the least interest in it. This 
is a perpetual dilemma, into which they are thrown by the vicious, 
weak, and contradictory principles they have chosen. Unless the 
people break up and level this gradation, it is plain that they do 
not at all substantially elect to the Assembly; indeed they elect as 
little in appearance as reality. 

What is it we all seek for in an election ? To answer its real pur- 
poses, you must first possess the means of knowing the fitness of 
your man; and then you must retain some hold upon him by per- 
sonal obligation or dependence. For what end are these primary 
electors complimented, or rather mocked, with a choice? They can 
never know anything of the qualities of him that is to serve them, 
nor has he any obligation whatsoever to them. Of all the powers 
unfit to be delegated by those who have any real means of judging, 
that most peculiarly unfit is what relates to a personal choice. In 
case of abuse, that body of primary electors never can call the repre- 
sentative to an account for his conduct. He is too far removed from 
them in the chain of representation. If he acts improperly at the 
end of his two years' lease, it does not concern him for two years 
more. By the new French constitution the best and the wisest rep- 
resentatives go equally with the worst into this Limbus Patrum. 
Their bottoms are supposed foul, and they must go into dock to be 
refitted. Every man who has served in an assembly is ineligible for 
two years after. Just as these magistrates begin to learn their trade, 
like chimney-sweepers, they are disqualified for exercising it. Super- 
ficial, new, petulant acquisition, and interrupted, dronish, broken, 
ill recollection, is to be the destined character of all your future gov- 
ernors. Your constitution has too much of jealousy to have much 
of sense in it. You consider the breach of trust in the representa- 
tive so principally, that you do not at all regard the question of 
his fitness to execute it. 

This purgatory interval is not unfavorable to a faithless repre- 
sentative, who may be as good a canvasser as he was a bad gover- 
nor. In this time he may cabal himself into a superiority over the 
wisest and most virtuous. As, in the end, all the members of this 
elective constitution are equally fugitive, and exist only for the elec- 
tion, they may be no longer the same persons who had chosen him, 



322 EDMUND BURKE 

to whom he is to be responsible when he solicits for a renewal of 
his trust. To call all the secondary electors of the Commune to ac- 
count, is ridiculous, impracticable, and unjust; they may themselves 
have been deceived in their choice, as the third set of electors, those 
of the Department, may be in theirs. In your elections responsibility 
cannot exist. 

Finding no sort of principle of coherence with each other in the 
nature and constitution of the several new republics of France, I 
considered what cement the legislators had provided for them from 
any extraneous materials. Their confederations, their spectacles, 
their civic feasts, and their enthusiasm, I take no notice of; they are 
nothing but mere tricks; but tracing their policy through their ac- 
tions, I think I can distinguish the arrangements by which they pro- 
pose to hold these republics together. The first, is the confiscation, 
with the compulsory paper currency annexed to it; the second, is 
the supreme power of the city of Paris; the third, is the general 
army of the state. Of this last I shall reserve what I have to say, until 
I come to consider the army as a head by itself. 

As to the operation of the first (the confiscation and paper cur- 
rency) merely as a cement, I cannot deny that these, the one de- 
pending on the other, may for some time compose some sort of 
cement, if their madness and folly in the management, and in the 
tempering of the parts together, does not produce a repulsion in the 
very outset. But allowing to the scheme some coherence and some 
duration, it appears to me, that if, after a while, the confiscation 
should not be found sufficient to support the paper coinage, (as I 
am morally certain it will not,) then, instead of cementing, it will 
add infinitely to the dissociation, distraction, and confusion of these 
confederate republics, both with relation to each other, and to the 
several parts within themselves. But if the confiscation should so 
far succeed as to sink the paper currency, the cement is gone with 
the circulation. In the mean time its binding force will be very 
uncertain, and it will straiten or relax with every variation in the 
credit of the paper. 

One thing only is certain in this scheme, which is an effect seem- 
ingly collateral, but direct, I have no doubt, in the minds of those 
who conduct this business, that is, its effect in producing an Oli- 
garchy in every one of the republics. A paper circulation, not 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 323 

founded on any real money deposited or engaged for, amounting al- 
ready to four-and-forty millions of English money, and this currency 
by force substituted in the place of the coin of the kingdom, becom- 
ing thereby the substance of its revenue, as well as the medium of all 
its commercial and civil intercourse, must put the whole of what 
power, authority, and influence is left, in any form whatsoever it 
may assume, into the hands of the managers and conductors of this 
circulation. 

In England we feel the influence of the bank; though it is only 
the centre of a voluntary dealing. He knows little indeed of the in- 
fluence of money upon mankind, who does not see the force of the 
management of a monied concern, which is so much more exten- 
sive, and in its nature so much more depending on the managers, 
than any of ours. But this is not merely a money concern. There 
is another member in the system inseparably connected with this 
money management. It consists in the means of drawing out at 
discretion portions of the confiscated lands for sale; and carrying on 
a process of continual transmutation of paper into land, and land 
into paper. When we follow this process in its effects, we may con- 
ceive something of the intensity of the force with which this system 
must operate. By this means the spirit of money-jobbing and specu- 
lation goes into the mass of land itself, and incorporates with it. 
By this kind of operation, that species of property becomes (as it 
were) volatilized; it assumes an unnatural and monstrous activity, 
and thereby throws into the hands of the several managers, princi- 
pal and subordinate, Parisian and provincial, all the representative 
of money, and perhaps a full tenth part of all the land in France, 
which has now acquired the worst and most pernicious part of the 
evil of a paper circulation, the greatest possible uncertainty in its 
value. They have reversed the Latonian kindness to the landed 
property of Delos. They have sent theirs to be blown about, like the 
light fragments of a wreck, or as et littora circum. 

The new dealers, being all habitually adventurers, and without 
any fixed habits or local predilections, will purchase to job out again, 
as the market of paper, or of money, or of land, shall present an 
advantage. For though a holy bishop thinks that agriculture will 
derive great advantages from the "enlightened" usurers who are to 
purchase the church confiscations, I, who am not a good, but an old 



324 EDMUND BURKE 

farmer, with great humility beg leave to tell his late lordship, that 
usury is not a tutor of agriculture; and if the word "enlightened" 
be understood according to the new dictionary, as it always is in 
your new schools, I cannot conceive how a man's not believing in 
God can teach him to cultivate the earth with the least of any 
additional skill or encouragement. "Diis immortalibus sero," said 
an old Roman, when he held one handle of the plough, whilst 
Death held the other. Though you were to join in the commission 
all the directors of the two academies to the directors of the Caisse 
d'Escompte, one old, experienced peasant is worth them all. I have 
got more information upon a curious and interesting branch of 
husbandry, in one short conversation with an old Carthusian monk, 
than I have derived from all the Bank directors that I have ever con- 
versed with. However, there is no cause for apprehension from 
the meddling of money-dealers with rural economy. These gentle- 
men are too wise in their generation. At first, perhaps, their tender 
and susceptible imaginations may be captivated with the innocent 
and unprofitable delights of a pastoral life; but in a little time they 
will find that agriculture is a trade much more laborious, and much 
less lucrative, than that which they had left. After making its pane- 
gyric, they will turn their backs on it like their great precursor and 
prototype. They may, like him, begin by singing "Beatus tile" but 
what will be the end ? 

Htec ubi locutus / Generator Alphius, 
Jam jam futurus rusticus 
Omnem relegit idibus pecuniam; 
Queer it calendis ponere. 

They will cultivate the Caisse d'Eglise, under the sacred auspices 
of this prelate, with much more profit than its vineyards and its 
corn-fields. They will employ their talents according to their habits 
and their interests. They will not follow the plough whilst they 
can direct treasuries, and govern provinces. 

Your legislators, in everything new, are the very first who have 
founded a commonwealth upon gaming, and infused this spirit into 
it as its vital breath. The great object in these politics is to meta- 
morphose France from a great kingdom into one great play-table; 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 325 

to turn its inhabitants into a nation of gamesters; to make specula- 
tion as extensive as life; to mix it with all its concerns; and to divert 
the whole of the hopes and fears of the people from their usual 
channels into the impulses, passions, and superstitions of those who 
live on chances. They loudly proclaim their opinion, that this their 
present system of a republic cannot possibly exist without this kind 
of gaming fund; and that the very thread of its life is spun out of 
the staple of these speculations. The old gaming in funds was mis- 
chievous enough undoubtedly; but it was so only to individuals. 
Even when it had its greatest extent, in the Mississippi and South 
Sea, it affected but few, comparatively; where it extends further, as 
in lotteries, the spirit has but a single object. But where the law, 
which in most circumstances forbids, and in none countenances, 
gaming, is itself debauched, so as to reverse its nature and policy, 
and expressly to force the subject to this destructive table, by bring- 
ing the spirit and symbols of gaming into the minutest matters, and 
engaging everybody in it, and in everything, a more dreadful epi- 
demic distemper of that kind is spread than yet has appeared in the 
world. With you a man can neither earn nor buy his dinner with- 
out a speculation. What he receives in the morning will not have 
the same value at night. What he is compelled to take as pay for 
an old debt will not be received as the same when he comes to pay 
a debt contracted by himself; nor will it be the same when by 
prompt payment he would avoid contracting any debt at all. Indus- 
try must wither away. Economy must be driven from your coun- 
try. Careful provision will have no existence. Who will labour 
without knowing the amount of his pay? Who will study to in- 
crease what none can estimate? Who will accumulate, when he 
does not know the value of what he saves? If you abstract it from 
its uses in gaming, to accumulate your paper wealth, would be 
not the providence of a man, but the distempered instinct of a 
jackdaw. 

The truly melancholy part of the policy of systematically making 
a nation of gamesters is this, that though all are forced to play, few 
can understand the game; and fewer still are in a condition to avail 
themselves of the knowledge. The many must be the dupes of the 
few who conduct the machine of these speculations. What effect it 



326 EDMUND BURKE 

must have on the country people is visible. The townsman can cal- 
culate from day to day; not so the inhabitant of the country. When 
the peasant first brings his corn to market, the magistrate in the 
towns obliges him to take the assignat at par; when he goes to the 
shop with his money, he finds it seven per cent, the worse for 
crossing the way. This market he will not readily resort to again. 
The towns-people will be inflamed; they will force the country peo- 
ple to bring their corn. Resistance will begin, and the murders of 
Paris and St. Denis may be renewed through all France. 

What signifies the empty compliment paid to the country, by giv- 
ing it, perhaps, more than its share in the theory of your representa- 
tion? Where have you placed the real power over monied and 
landed circulation? Where have you placed the means of raising 
and falling the value of every man's freehold? Those, whose opera- 
tions can take from, or add ten per cent, to, the possessions of every 
man in France, must be the masters of every man in France. The 
whole of the power obtained by this revolution will settle in the 
towns among the burghers, and the monied directors who lead 
them. The landed gentleman, the yeoman, and the peasant, have, 
none of them, habits, or inclinations, or experience, which can lead 
them to any share in this the sole source of power and influence 
now left in France. The very nature of a country life, the very 
nature of landed property, in all the occupations, and all the 
pleasures they afford, render combination and arrangement (the 
sole way of procuring and exerting influence) in a manner impossi- 
ble amongst country people. Combine them by all the art you can, 
and all the industry, they are always dissolving into individuality. 
Anything in the nature of incorporation is almost impracticable 
amongst them. Hope, fear, alarm, jealousy, the ephemerous tale 
that does its business and dies in a day, all these things, which are 
the reins and spurs by which leaders check or urge the minds of 
followers, are not easily employed, or hardly at all, amongst scat- 
tered people. They assemble, they arm, they act, with the utmost 
difficulty, and at the greatest charge. Their efforts, if ever they can 
be commenced, cannot be sustained. They cannot proceed system- 
atically. If the country gentlemen attempt an influence through the 
mere income of their property, what is it to that of those who have 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 327 

ten times their income to sell, and who can ruin their property by 
bringing their plunder to meet it at market? If the landed man 
wishes to mortgage, he falls the value of his land, and raises the 
value of assignats. He augments the power of his enemy by the 
very means he must take to contend with him. The country gentle- 
man therefore, the officer by sea and land, the man of liberal views 
and habits, attached to no profession, will be as completely excluded 
from the government of his country as if he were legislatively pro- 
scribed. It is obvious, that in the towns, all things which conspire 
against the country gentleman combine in favour of the money 
manager and director. In towns combination is natural. The habits 
of burghers, their occupations, their diversion, their business, their 
idleness, continually bring them into mutual contact. Their vir- 
tues and their vices are sociable; they are always in garrison; and 
they come embodied and half disciplined into the hands of those 
who mean to form them for civil or military action. 

All these considerations leave no doubt on my mind, that if this 
monster of a constitution can continue, France will be wholly gov- 
erned by the agitators in corporations, by societies in the towns 
formed of directors of assignats, and trustees for the sale of church 
lands, attornies, agents, money-jobbers, speculators, and adventurers, 
composing an ignoble oligarchy, founded on the destruction of the 
crown, the church, the nobility, and the people. Here end all the 
deceitful dreams and visions of the equality and rights of men. 
In "the Serbonian bog" of this base oligarchy they are all absorbed, 
sunk, and lost for ever. 

Though human eyes cannot trace them, one would be tempted to 
think some great offences in France must cry to heaven, which has 
thought fit to punish it with a subjection to a vile and inglorious 
domination, in which no comfort or compensation is to be found 
in any even of those false splendours, which, playing about other 
tyrannies, prevent mankind from feeling themselves dishonoured 
even whilst they are oppressed. I must confess I am touched with 
a sorrow, mixed with some indignation, at the conduct of a few 
men, once of great rank, and still of great character, who, deluded 
with specious names, have engaged in a business too deep for the 
line of their understanding to fathom; who have lent their fair rep- 



328 EDMUND BURKE 

utation, and the authority of their high-sounding names, to the de- 
signs of men with whom they could not be acquainted; and have 
thereby made their very virtues operate to the ruin of their country. 

So far as to the first cementing principle. 

The second material of cement for their new republic is the su- 
periority of the city of Paris: and this I admit is strongly connected 
with the other cementing principle of paper circulation and confis- 
cation. It is in this part of the project we must look for the cause 
of the destruction of all the old bounds of provinces and jurisdic- 
tions, ecclesiastical and secular, and the dissolution of all ancient 
combinations of things, as well as the formation of so many small 
unconnected republics. The power of the city of Paris is evidently 
one great spring of all their politics. It is through the power of 
Paris, now become the centre and focus of jobbing, that the leaders 
of this faction direct, or rather command, the whole legislative and 
the whole executive government. Everything therefore must be 
done which can confirm the authority of that city over the other 
republics. Paris is compact; she has an enormous strength, wholly 
disproportioned to the force of any of the square republics; and this 
strength is collected and condensed within a narrow compass. Paris 
has a natural and easy connexion of its parts, which will not be 
affected by any scheme of a geometrical constitution, nor does it 
much signify whether its proportion of representation be more or 
less, since it has the whole draft of fishes in its drag-net. The other 
divisions of the kingdom being hackled and torn to pieces, and sepa- 
rated from all their habitual means, and even principles of union, 
cannot, for some time at least, confederate against her. Nothing was 
to be left in all the subordinate members, but weakness, disconnexion, 
and confusion. To confirm this part of the plan, the Assembly has 
lately come to a resolution, that no two of their republics shall have 
the same commander-in-chief. 

To a person who takes a view of the whole, the strength of Paris, 
thus formed, will appear a system of general weakness. It is boasted 
that the geometrical policy has been adopted, that all local ideas 
should be sunk, and that the people should no longer be Gascons, 
Picards, Bretons, Normans; but Frenchmen, with one country, one 
heart, and one Assembly. But instead of being all Frenchmen, the 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 329 

greater likelihood is, that the inhabitants of that region will shortly 
have no country. No man ever was attached by a sense of pride, 
partiality, or real affection, to a description of square measurement. 
He never will glory in belonging to the Chequer No. 71, or to any 
other badge-ticket. We begin our public affections in our families. 
No cold relation is a zealous citizen. We pass on to our neighbour- 
hoods, and our habitual provincial connexions. These are inns and 
resting-places. Such divisions of our country as have been formed 
by habit, and not by a sudden jerk of authority, were so many little 
images of the great country in which the heart found something 
which it could fill. The love to the whole is not extinguished by this 
subordinate partiality. Perhaps it is a sort of elemental training to 
those higher and more large regards, by which alone men come to be 
affected, as with their own concern, in the prosperity of a kingdom 
so extensive as that of France. In that general territory itself, as in 
the old name of provinces, the citizens are interested from old preju- 
dices and unreasoned habits, and not on account of the geometric 
properties of its figure. The power and pre-eminence of Paris does 
certainly press down and hold these republics together as long as it 
lasts. But, for the reasons I have already given you, I think it cannot 
last very long. 

Passing from the civil creating and the civil cementing principles 
of this constitution, to the National Assembly, which is to appear and 
act as sovereign, we see a body in its constitution with every possible 
power, and no possible external control. We see a body without 
fundamental laws, without established maxims, without respected 
rules of proceeding, which nothing can keep firm to any system 
whatsoever. Their idea of their powers is always taken at the ut- 
most stretch of legislative competency, and their examples for com- 
mon cases from the exceptions of the most urgent necessity. The 
future is to be in most respects like the present Assembly; but, by 
the mode of the new elections and the tendency of the new circula- 
tions, it will be purged of the small degree of internal control exist- 
ing in a minority chosen originally from various interests, and 
preserving something of their spirit. If possible, the next Assembly 
must be worse than the present. The present, by destroying and 
altering everything, will leave to their successors apparently nothing 



33 EDMUND BURKE 

popular to do. They will be roused by emulation and example to 
enterprises the boldest and the most absurd. To suppose such an 
Assembly sitting in perfect quietude is ridiculous. 

Your all-sufficient legislators, in their hurry to do everything at 
once, have forgot one thing that seems essential, and which I believe 
never has been before, in the theory or the practice, omitted by any 
projector of a republic. They have forgot to constitute a senate, or 
something of that nature and character. Never, before this time, 
was heard of a body politic composed of one legislative and active 
assembly, and its executive officers, without such a council; without 
something to which foreign states might connect themselves; some- 
thing to which, in the ordinary detail of government, the people 
could look up; something which might give a bias, and steadiness, 
and preserve something like consistency in the proceedings of state. 
Such a body kings generally have as a council. A monarchy may 
exist without it; but it seems to be in the very essence of a republican 
government. It holds a sort of middle place between the supreme 
power exercised by the people, or immediately delegated from them, 
and the mere executive. Of this there are no traces in your constitu- 
tion; and, in providing nothing of this kind, your Solons and Numas 
have, as much as in anything else, discovered a sovereign incapacity. 

Let us now turn our eyes to what they have done towards the 
formation of an executive power. For this they have chosen a de- 
graded king. This their first executive officer is to be a machine, 
without any sort of deliberative discretion in any one act of his func- 
tion. At best he is but a channel to convey to the National Assembly 
such matter as it may import that body to know. If he had been 
made the exclusive channel, the power would not have been without 
its importance; though infinitely perilous to those who would choose 
to exercise it. But public intelligence and statement of facts may 
pass to the Assembly with equal authenticity, through any other con- 
veyance. As to the means, therefore, of giving a direction to measures 
by the statement of an authorized reporter, this office of intelligence 
is as nothing. 

To consider the French scheme of an executive officer, in its two 
natural divisions of civil and political. In the first it must be ob- 
served, that, according to the new constitution, the higher parts of 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 33! 

judicature, in either of its lines, are not in the king. The king of 
France is not the fountain of justice. The judges, neither the original 
nor the appellate, are of his nomination. He neither proposes the 
candidates, nor has a negative on the choice. He is not even the 
public prosecutor. He serves only as a notary to authenticate the 
choice made of the judges in the several districts. By his officers he 
is to execute their sentence. When we look into the true nature of 
his authority, he appears to be nothing more than a chief of bum- 
bailiffs, sergeants at mace, catch-poles, jailers, and hangmen. It is im- 
possible to place anything called royalty in a more degrading point 
of view. A thousand times better had it been for the dignity of this 
unhappy prince, that he had nothing at all to do with the administra- 
tion of justice, deprived as he is of all that is venerable, and all that 
is consolatory, in that function, without power of originating any 
process; without a power of suspension, mitigation, or pardon. Every- 
thing in justice that is vile and odious is thrown upon him. It was 
not for nothing that the Assembly has been at such pains to remove 
the stigma from certain offices, when they are resolved to place the 
persons who had lately been their king in a situation but one degree 
above the executioner, and in an office nearly of the same quality. 
It is not in nature, that, situated as the king of the French now is, 
he can respect himself, or can be respected by others. 

View this new executive officer on the side of his political capacity, 
as he acts under the orders of the National Assembly. To execute 
laws is a royal office; to execute orders is not to be a king. How- 
ever, a political executive magistracy, though merely such, is a great 
trust. It is a trust indeed that has much depending upon its faithful 
and diligent performance, both in the person presiding in it and in 
all its subordinates. Means of performing this duty ought to be 
given by regulation; and dispositions toward it ought to be infused 
by the circumstances attendant on the trust. It ought to be en- 
vironed with dignity, authority, and consideration, and it ought to 
lead to glory. The office of execution is an office of exertion. It is 
not from impotence we are to expect the tasks of power. What sort 
of a person is a king to command executory service, who has no 
means whatsoever to reward it? Not in a permanent office; not in a 
grant of land; no, not in a pension of fifty pounds a year; not in the 



33 2 EDMUND BURKE 

vainest and most trivial title. In France the king is no more the 
fountain of honour than he is the fountain of justice. All rewards, 
all distinctions, are in other hands. Those who serve the king can 
be actuated by no natural motive but fear; by a fear of everything 
except their master. His functions of internal coercion are as odious 
as those which he exercises in the department of justice. If relief is 
to be given to any municipality, the Assembly gives it. If troops are 
to be sent to reduce them to obedience to the Assembly, the king is 
to execute the order; and upon every occasion he is to be spattered 
over with the blood of his people. He has no negative; yet his name 
and authority is used to enforce every harsh decree. Nay, he must 
concur in the butchery of those who shall attempt to free him from 
his imprisonment, or show the slightest attachment to his person or 
to his ancient authority. 

Executive magistracy ought to be constituted in such a manner, 
that those who compose it should be disposed to love and to venerate 
those whom they are bound to obey. A purposed neglect, or, what 
is worse, a literal but perverse and malignant obedience, must be the 
ruin of the wisest counsels. In vain will the law attempt to antici- 
pate or to follow such studied neglects and fraudulent attentions. 
To make them act zealously is not in the competence of law. Kings, 
even such as are truly kings, may and ought to bear the freedom 
of subjects that are obnoxious to them. They may too, without 
derogating from themselves, bear even the authority of such persons, 
if it promotes their service. Louis the Thirteenth mortally hated the 
Cardinal de Richelieu; but his support of that minister against his 
rivals was the source of all the glory of his reign, and the solid 
foundation of his throne itself. Louis the Fourteenth, when come 
to the throne, did not love the Cardinal Mazarin; but for his inter- 
ests he preserved him in power. When old, he detested Louvois; but 
for years, whilst he faithfully served his greatness, he endured his 
person. When George the Second took Mr. Pitt, who certainly was 
not agreeable to him, into his councils, he did nothing which could 
humble a wise sovereign. But these ministers, who were chosen by 
affairs, not by affections, acted in the name of, and in trust for, kings; 
and not as their avowed, constitutional, and ostensible masters. I 
think it impossible that any king, when he has recovered his first 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 333 

terrors, can cordially infuse vivacity and vigour into measures which 
he knows to be dictated by those, who, he must be persuaded, are in 
the highest degree ill affected to his person. Will any ministers, who 
serve such a king (or whatever he may be called) with but a decent 
appearance of respect, cordially obey the orders of those whom but 
the other day in his name they had committed to the Bastile? will 
they obey the orders of those whom, whilst they were exercising 
despotic justice upon them, they conceived they were treating with 
lenity; and from whom, in a prison, they thought they had provided 
an asylum ? If you expect such obedience, amongst your other inno- 
vations and regenerations, you ought to make a revolution in nature, 
and provide a new constitution for the human mind. Otherwise, 
your supreme government cannot harmonize with its executory 
system. There are cases in which we cannot take up with names 
and abstractions. You may call half a dozen leading individuals, 
whom we have reason to fear and hate, the nation. It makes no other 
difference, than to make us fear and hate them the more. If it had 
been thought justifiable and expedient to make such a revolution by 
such means, and through such persons, as you have made yours, it 
would have been more wise to have completed the business of the 
fifth and sixth of October. The new executive officer would then owe 
his situation to those who are his creators as well as his masters; 
and he might be bound in interest, in the society of crime, and (if 
in crimes there could be virtues) in gratitude, to serve those who had 
promoted him to a place of great lucre and great sensual indulgence; 
and of something more : for more he must have received from those 
who certainly would not have limited an aggrandized creature, as 
they have done a submitting antagonist. 

A king circumstanced as the present, if he is totally stupefied by 
his misfortunes, so as to think it not the necessity, but the premium 
and privilege of life, to eat and sleep, without any regard to glory, 
can never be fit for the office. If he feels as men commonly feel, he 
must be sensible, that an office so circumstanced is one in which he 
can obtain no fame or reputation. He has no generous interest that 
can excite him to action. At best, his conduct will be passive and 
defensive. To inferior people such an office might be matter of hon- 
our. But to be raised to it, and to descend to it, are different things, 



334 EDMUND BURKE 

and suggest different sentiments. Does he really name the ministers ? 
They will have a sympathy with him. Are they forced upon him? 
The whole business between them and the nominal king will be 
mutual counteraction. In all other countries, the office of ministers 
of state is of the highest dignity. In France it is full of peril, and 
incapable of glory. Rivals, however, they will have in their nothing- 
ness, whilst shallow ambition exists in the world, or the desire of a 
miserable salary is an incentive to short-sighted avarice. Those com- 
petitors of the ministers are enabled by your constitution to attack 
them in their vital parts, whilst they have not the means of repelling 
their charges in any other than the degrading character of culprits. 
The ministers of state in France are the only persons in that country 
who are incapable of a share in the national councils. What min- 
isters! What councils! What a nation! But they are responsible. 
It is a poor service that is to be had from responsibility. The eleva- 
tion of mind to be derived from fear will never make a nation glori- 
ous. Responsibility prevents crimes. It makes all attempts against 
the laws dangerous. But for a principle of active and zealous service, 
none but idiots could think of it. Is the conduct of a war to be trusted 
to a man who may abhor its principle; who, in every step he may 
take to render it successful, confirms the power of those by whom he 
is oppressed? Will foreign states seriously treat with him who has no 
prerogative of peace or war; no, not so much as in a single vote by 
himself or his ministers, or by any one whom he can possibly influ- 
ence? A state of contempt is not a state for a prince: better get rid of 
him at once. 

I know it will be said that these humours in the court and execu- 
tive government will continue only through this generation; and that 
the king has been brought to declare the dauphin shall be educated 
in a conformity to his situation. If he is made to conform to his 
situation, he will have no education at all. His training must be 
worse even than that of an arbitrary monarch. If he reads whether 
he reads or not, some good or evil genius will tell him his ancestors 
were kings. Thenceforward his object must be to assert himself and 
to avenge his parents. This you will say is not his duty. That may 
be; but it is nature; and whilst you pique nature against you, you do 
unwisely to trust to duty. In this futile scheme of polity, the state 






ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 335 

nurses in its bosom, for the present, a source of weakness, perplexity, 
counteraction, inefficiency, and decay; and it prepares the means of 
its final ruin. In short, I see nothing in the executive force (I cannot 
call it authority) that has even an appearance of vigour, or that has 
the smallest degree of just correspondence or symmetry, or amicable 
relation with the supreme power, either as it now exists, or as it is 
planned for the future government. 

You have settled, by an economy as perverted as the policy, two 49 
establishments of government; one real, one fictitious. Both main- 
tained at a vast expense; but the fictitious at, I think, the greatest. 
Such a machine as the latter is not worth the grease of its wheels. 
The expense is exorbitant; and neither the show nor the use deserve 
the tenth part of the charge. Oh! but I don't do justice to the talents 
of the legislators: I don't allow, as I ought to do, for necessity. Their 
scheme of executive force was not their choice. This pageant must be 
kept. The people would not consent to part with it. Right; I under- 
stand you. You do, in spite of your grand theories, to which you 
would have heaven and earth to bend, you do know how to conform 
yourselves to the nature and circumstances of things. But when you 
were obliged to conform thus far to circumstances, you ought to 
have carried your submission farther, and to have made, what you 
were obliged to take, a proper instrument, and useful to its end. That 
was in your power. For instance, among many others, it was in your 
power to leave to your king the right of peace and war. What! to 
leave to the executive magistrate the most dangerous of all preroga- 
tives? I know none more dangerous; nor any one more necessary 
to be so trusted. I do not say that this prerogative ought to be trusted 
to your king, unless he enjoyed other auxiliary trusts along with it, 
which he does not now hold. But, if he did possess them, hazardous 
as they are undoubtedly, advantages would arise from such a consti- 
tution, more than compensating the risk. There is no other way of 
keeping the several potentates of Europe from intriguing distinctly 
and personally with the members of your Assembly, from inter- 
meddling in all your concerns, and fomenting, in the heart of your 
country, the most pernicious of all factions; factions in the interest 
and under the direction of foreign powers. From that worst of evils, 

49 In reality three, to reckon the provincial republican establishments. 



336 EDMUND BURKE 

thank God, we are still free. Your skill, if you had any, would be 
well employed to find out indirect correctives and controls upon 
this perilous trust. If you did not like those which in England we 
have chosen, your leaders might have exerted their abilities in con- 
triving better. If it were necessary to exemplify the consequences of 
such an executive government as yours, in the management of great 
affairs, I should refer you to the late reports of M. de Montmorin to 
the National Assembly, and all the other proceedings relative to the 
differences between Great Britain and Spain. It would be treating 
your understanding with disrespect to point them out to you. 

I hear that the persons who are called ministers have signified 
an intention of resigning their places. I am rather astonished that 
they have not resigned long since. For the universe I would not 
have stood in the situation in which they have been for this last 
twelvemonth. They wished well, I take it for granted, to the Revo- 
lution. Let this fact be as it may, they could not, placed as they were 
upon an eminence, though an eminence of humiliation, but be the 
first to see collectively, and to feel each in his own department, the 
evils which have been produced by that revolution. In every step 
which they took, or forbore to take, they must have felt the degraded 
situation of their country, and their utter incapacity of serving it. 
They are in a species of subordinate servitude, in which no men be- 
fore them were ever seen. Without confidence from their sovereign, 
on whom they were forced, or from the Assembly who forced them 
upon him, all the noble functions of their office are executed by com- 
mittees of the Assembly, without any regard whatsoever to their 
personal or their official authority. They are to execute, without 
power; they are to be responsible, without discretion; they are to 
deliberate, without choice. In their puzzled situation, under two 
sovereigns, over neither of whom they have any influence, they must 
act in such a manner as (in effect, whatever they may intend) some- 
times to betray the one, sometimes the other, and always to betray 
themselves. Such has been their situation; such must be the situation 
of those who succeed them. I have much respect, and many good 
wishes, for M. Necker. I am obliged to him for attentions. I thought 
when his enemies had driven him from Versailles, that his exile was 
a subject of most serious congratulation sed multce urbes et publica 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 337 

vota vicerunt. He is now sitting on the ruins of the finances, and 
of the monarchy of France. 

A great deal more might be observed on the strange constitution 
of the executory part of the new government; but fatigue must give 
bounds to the discussion of subjects, which in themselves have hardly 
any limits. 

As little genius and talent am I able to perceive in the plan of 
judicature formed by the National Assembly. According to their 
invariable course, the framers of your constitution have begun with 
the utter abolition of the parliaments. These venerable bodies, like 
the rest of the old government, stood in need of reform, even though 
there should be no change made in the monarchy. They required 
several more alterations to adapt them to the system of a free con- 
stitution. But they had particulars in their constitution, and those 
not a few, which deserved approbation from the wise. They pos- 
sessed one fundamental excellence; they were independent. The 
most doubtful circumstance attendant on their office, that of its being 
vendible, contributed however to this independency of character. 
They held for life. Indeed they may be said to have held by inheri- 
tance. Appointed by the monarch, they were considered as nearly out 
of his power. The most determined exertions of that authority 
against them only showed their radical independence. They com- 
posed permanent bodies politic, constituted to resist arbitrary innova- 
tion; and from that corporate constitution, and from most of their 
forms, they were well calculated to afford both certainty and stability 
to the laws. They had been a safe asylum to secure these laws, in all 
the revolutions of humour and opinion. They had saved that sacred 
deposit of the country during the reigns of arbitrary princes, and 
the struggles of arbitrary factions. They kept alive the memory and 
record of the constitution. They were the great security to private 
property; which might be said (when personal liberty had no ex- 
istence) to be, in fact, as well guarded in France as in any other 
country. Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as 
possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only not to depend 
upon it, but in some sort to balance it. It ought to give a security to 
its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it 
were, something exterior to the state. 



EDMUND BURKE 

These parliaments had furnished, not the best certainly, but some 
considerable corrective to the excesses and vices of the monarchy. 
Such an independent judicature was ten times more necessary when 
a democracy became the absolute power of the country. In that con- 
stitution, elective, temporary, local judges, such as you have con- 
trived, exercising their dependent functions in a narrow society, 
must be the worst of all tribunals. In them it will be vain to look 
for any appearance of justice towards strangers, towards the ob- 
noxious rich, towards the minority of routed parties, towards all those 
who in the election have supported unsuccessful candidates. It will 
be impossible to keep the new tribunals clear of the worst spirit of 
faction. All contrivances by ballot we know experimentally to be 
vain and childish to prevent a discovery of inclinations. Where they 
may the best answer the purposes of concealment, they answer to 
produce suspicion, and this is a still more mischievous cause of 
partiality. 

If the parliaments had been preserved, instead of being dissolved 
at so ruinous a change to the nation, they might have served in this 
new commonwealth, perhaps not precisely the same, (I do not mean 
an exact parallel,) but nearly the same, purposes as the court and 
senate of Areopagus did in Athens; that is, as one of the balances and 
correctives to the evils of a light and unjust democracy. Every one 
knows that this tribunal was the great stay of that state; every one 
knows with what care it was upheld, and with what a religious awe 
it was consecrated. The parliaments were not wholly free from fac- 
tion, I admit; but this evil was exterior and accidental, and not so 
much the vice of their constitution itself, as it must be in your new 
contrivance of sexennial elective judicatories. Several English com- 
mend the abolition of the old tribunals, as supposing that they deter- 
mined everything by bribery and corruption. But they have stood 
the test of monarchic and republican scrutiny. The court was well 
disposed to prove corruption on those bodies when they were dis- 
solved in 1771. Those who have again dissolved them would have 
done the same if they could but both inquisitions having failed, I 
conclude, that gross pecuniary corruption must have been rather rare 
amongst them. 

It would have been prudent, along with the parliaments, to pre- 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 339 

serve their ancient power of registering, and of remonstrating at 
least, upon all the decrees of the National Assembly, as they did 
upon those which passed in the time of the monarchy. It would be 
a means of squaring the occasional decrees of a democracy to some 
principles of general jurisprudence. The vice of the ancient democra- 
cies, and one cause of their ruin, was, that they ruled, as you do, 
by occasional decrees, psephismata. This practice soon broke in upon 
the tenour and consistency of the laws; it abated the respect of the 
people towards them; and totally destroyed them in the end. 

Your vesting the power of remonstrance, which, in the time of the 
monarchy, existed in the parliament of Paris, in your principal execu- 
tive officer, whom, in spite of common sense, you persevere in calling 
king, is the height of absurdity. You ought never to suffer remon- 
strance from him who is to execute. This is to understand neither 
council nor execution; neither authority nor obedience. The person 
whom you call king, ought not to have this power, or he ought to 
have more. 

Your present arrangement is strictly judicial. Instead of imitating 
your monarchy, and seating your judges on a bench of independence, 
your object is to reduce them to the most blind obedience. As you 
have changed all things, you have invented new principles of order. 
You first appoint judges, who, I suppose, are to determine according 
to law, and then you let them know, that at some time or other, 
you intend to give them some law by which they are to determine. 
Any studies which they have made (if any they have made) are to 
be useless to them. But to supply these studies, they are to be sworn 
to obey all the rules, orders, and instructions which from time to 
time they are to receive from the National Assembly. These if they 
submit to, they leave no ground of law to the subject. They become 
complete and most dangerous instruments in the hands of the gov- 
erning power, which, in the midst of a cause, or on the prospect of 
it, may wholly change the rule of decision. If these orders of the 
National Assembly come to be contrary to the will of the people, 
who locally choose those judges, such confusion must happen as is 
terrible to think of. For the judges owe their places to the local 
authority; and the commands they are sworn to obey come from 
those who have no share in their appointment. In the mean time 



34O EDMUND BURKE 

they have the example of the court of Chatelet to encourage and 
guide them in the exercise of their functions. That court is to try 
criminals sent to it by the National Assembly, or brought before it 
by other courses of delation. They sit under a guard to save their 
own lives. They know not by what law they judge, nor under what 
authority they act, nor by what tenure they hold. It is thought that 
they are sometimes obliged to condemn at peril of their lives. This 
is not perhaps certain, nor can it be ascertained; but when they 
acquit, we know they have seen the persons whom they dis- 
charge, with perfect impunity to the actors, hanged at the door of 
their court. 

The Assembly indeed promises that they will form a body of law, 
which shall be short, simple, clear, and so forth. That is, by their 
short laws, they will leave much to the discretion of the judge; whilst 
they have exploded the authority of all the learning which could 
make judicial discretion (a thing perilous at best) deserving the 
appellation of a sound discretion. 

It is curious to observe, that the administrative bodies are carefully 
exempted from the jurisdiction of these new tribunals. That is, those 
persons are exempted from the power of the laws, who ought to be 
the most entirely submitted to them. Those who execute public 
pecuniary trusts, ought of all men to be the most strictly held to their 
duty. One would have thought that it must have been among your 
earliest cares, if you did not mean that those administrative bodies 
should be real, sovereign, independent states, to form an awful 
tribunal, like your late parliaments, or like our king's bench, where 
all corporate officers might obtain protection in the legal exercise of 
their functions, and would find coercion if they trespassed against 
their legal duty. But the cause of the exemption is plain. These 
administrative bodies are the great instruments of the present leaders 
in their progress through democracy to oligarchy. They must there- 
fore be put above the law. It will be said, that the legal tribunals 
which you have made are unfit to coerce them. They are undoubt- 
edly. They are unfit for any rational purpose. It will be said too, that 
the administrative bodies will be accountable to the General Assem- 
bly. This I fear is talking without much consideration of the nature 
of that Assembly, or of these corporations. However, to be subject to 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 34! 

the pleasure of that Assembly, is not to be subject to law either for 
protection or for constraint. 

This establishment of judges as yet wants something to its com- 
pletion. It is to be crowned by a new tribunal. This is to be a grand 
state judicature; and it is to judge of crimes committed against the 
nation, that is, against the power of the Assembly. It seems as if they 
had something in their view of the nature of the high court of jus- 
tice erected in England during the time of the great usurpation. As 
they have not yet finished this part of the scheme, it is impossible 
to form a right judgment upon it. However, if great care is not taken 
to form it in a spirit very different from that which has guided 
them in their proceedings relative to state offences, this tribunal, sub- 
servient to their inquisition, the committee of research, will extin- 
guish the last sparks of liberty in France, and settle the most dread- 
ful and arbitrary tyranny ever known in any nation. If they wish to 
give to this tribunal any appearance of liberty and justice, they must 
not evoke from or send to it the causes relative to their own mem- 
bers, at their pleasure. They must also remove the seat of that 
tribunal out of the republic of Paris. 50 

Has more wisdom been displayed in the constitution of your 
army than what is discoverable in your plan of judicature? The able 
arrangement of this part is the more difficult, and requires the great- 
est skill and attention, not only as the great concern in itself, but 
as it is the third cementing principle in the new body of republics, 
which you call the French nation. Truly it is not easy to divine what 
that army may become at last. You have voted a very large one, and 
on good appointments, at least fully equal to your apparent means 
of payment. But what is the principle of its discipline? or whom is it 
to obey? You have got the wolf by the ears, and I wish you joy of 
the happy position in which you have chosen to place yourselves, and 
in which you are well circumstanced for a free deliberation, rela- 
tively to that army, or to anything else. 

The minister and secretary of state for the war department is M. 
de la Tour du Pin. This gentleman, like his colleagues in administra- 
tion, is a most zealous assertor of the Revolution, and a sanguine 

50 For further elucidations upon the subject of all these judicatures, and of the 
committee of research, see M. de Calonne's work. 



34 2 EDMUND BURKE 

admirer of the new constitution, which originated in that event. 
His statement of facts, relative to the military of France, is impor- 
tant, not only from his official and personal authority, but because it 
displays very clearly the actual condition of the army in France, and 
because it throws light on the principles upon which the Assembly 
proceeds, in the administration of this critical object. It may enable 
us to form some judgment, how far it may be expedient in this coun- 
try to imitate the martial policy of France. 

M. de la Tour du Pin, on the fourth of last June, comes to give an 
account of the state of his department, as it exists under the auspices 
of the National Assembly. No man knows it so well; no man can 
express it better. Addressing himself to the National Assembly, he 
says, "His Majesty has this day sent me to apprize you of the multi- 
plied disorders of which every day he receives the most distressing 
intelligence. The army (le corps militaire) threatens to fall into the 
most turbulent anarchy. Entire regiments have dared to violate at 
once the respect due to the laws, to the king, to the order established 
by your decrees, and to the oaths which they have taken with the 
most awful solemnity. Compelled by my duty to give you informa- 
tion of these excesses, my heart bleeds when I consider who they are 
that have committed them. Those, against whom it is not in my 
power to withhold the most grievous complaints, are a part of that 
very soldiery which to this day have been so full of honour and loy- 
alty, and with whom, for fifty years, I have lived the comrade and 
the friend. 

"What incomprehensible spirit of delirium and delusion has all at 
once led them astray? Whilst you are indefatigable in establishing 
uniformity in the empire, and moulding the whole into one coherent 
and consistent body; whilst the French are taught by you at once the 
respect which the laws owe to the rights of man, and that which the 
citizens owe to the laws, the administration of the army presents 
nothing but disturbance and confusion. I see in more than one corps 
the bonds of discipline relaxed or broken; the most unheard-of pre- 
tensions avowed directly and without any disguise; the ordinances 
without force; the chiefs without authority; the military chest and 
the colours carried off; the authority of the king himself \risum 
teneatis?] proudly defied; the officers despised, degraded, threatened, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 343 

driven away, and some of them prisoners in the midst o their corps, 
dragging on a precarious life in the bosom of disgust and humili- 
ation. To fill up the measure of all these horrors, the commandants 
of places have had their throats cut, under the eyes, and almost in 
the arms, of their own soldiers. 

"These evils are great; but they are not the worst consequences 
which may be produced by such military insurrections. Sooner or 
later they may menace the nation itself. The nature of things re- 
quires that the army should never act but as an instrument. The 
moment that, erecting itself into a deliberative body, it shall act 
according to its own resolutions, the government, be it what it may, 
will immediately degenerate into a military democracy, a species 
of political monster, which has always ended by devouring those 
who have produced it. 

"After all this, who must not be alarmed at the irregular consulta- 
tions, and turbulent committees, formed in some regiments by the 
common soldiers and non-commissioned officers, without the knowl- 
edge, or even in contempt of the authority, of their superiors; al- 
though the presence and concurrence of those superiors could give 
no authority to such monstrous democratic assemblies [cornices]." 

It is not necessary to add much to this finished picture: finished 
as far as its canvas admits; but as I apprehend, not taking in the 
whole of the nature and complexity of the disorders of this military 
democracy, which, the minister at war truly and wisely observes, 
wherever it exists, must be the true constitution of the state, by what- 
ever formal appellation it may pass. For, though he informs the 
Assembly that the more considerable part of the army have not cast 
off their obedience, but are still attached to their duty, yet those trav- 
ellers, who have seen the corps whose conduct is the best, rather ob- 
serve in them the absence of mutiny, than the existence of discipline. 

I cannot help pausing here for a moment, to reflect upon the ex- 
pressions of surprise which this minister has let fall, relative to the 
excesses he relates. To him the departure of the troops from their 
ancient principles of loyalty and honour seems quite inconceivable. 
Surely those to whom he addresses himself know the causes of it 
but too well. They know the doctrines which they have preached, 
the decrees which they have passed, the practices which they have 



344 EDMUND BURKE 

countenanced. The soldiers remember the 6th of October. They 
recollect the French guards. They have not forgotten the taking of 
the king's castles in Paris and Marseilles. That the governors in 
both places were murdered with impunity, is a fact that has not 
passed out of their minds. They do not abandon the principles laid 
down so ostentatiously and laboriously of the quality of men. They 
cannot shut their eyes to the degradation of the whole noblesse of 
France, and the suppression of the very idea of a gentleman. The 
total abolition of titles and distinctions is not lost upon them. But 
M. de la Tour du Pin is astonished at their disloyalty, when the doc- 
tors of the Assembly have taught them at the same time the respect 
due to laws. It is easy to judge which of the two sorts of lessons 
men with arms in their hands are likely to learn. As to the authority 
of the king, we may collect from the minister himself (if any argu- 
ment on that head were not quite superfluous) that it is not of more 
consideration with these troops, than it is with everybody else. "The 
king," says he, "has over and over again repeated his orders to put 
a stop to these excesses: but, in so terrible a crisis, your [the As- 
sembly's] concurrence is become indispensably necessary to prevent 
the evils which menace the state. You unite to the force of the 
legislative power, that of opinion still more important." To be sure 
the army can have no opinion of the power or authority of the king. 
Perhaps the soldier has by this time learned, that the Assembly itself 
does not enjoy a much greater degree of liberty than that royal figure. 
It is now to be seen what has been proposed in this exigency, one 
of the greatest that can happen in a state. The minister requests the 
Assembly to array itself in all its terrors, and to call forth all its 
majesty. He desires that the grave and severe principles announced 
by them may give vigour to the king's proclamation. After this we 
should have looked for courts civil and martial; breaking of some 
corps, decimating of others, and all the terrible means which neces- 
sity has employed in such cases to arrest the progress of the most 
terrible of all evils; particularly, one might expect, that a serious 
inquiry would be made into the murder of commandants in the view 
of their soldiers. Not one word of all this, or of anything like it. 
After they had been told that the soldiery trampled upon the decrees 
of the Assembly promulgated by the king, the Assembly pass new 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 345 

decrees; and they authorize the king to make new proclamations. 
After the secretary at war had stated that the regiments had paid no 
regard to oaths pretes avec la plus imposante solemnite they pro- 
pose what? More oaths. They renew decrees and proclamations 
as they experience their insufficiency, and they multiply oaths in pro- 
portion as they weaken, in the minds of men, the sanctions of religion. 
I hope that handy abridgments of the excellent sermons of Voltaire, 
d'Alembert, Diderot, and Helvetius, on the Immortality of the Soul, 
on a particular superintending Providence, and on a Future State of 
Rewards and Punishments, are sent down to the soldiers along with 
their civic oaths. Of this I have no doubt; as I understand that a 
certain description of reading makes no inconsiderable part of their 
military exercises, and that they are full as well supplied with the 
ammunition of pamphlets as of cartridges. 

To prevent the mischiefs arising from conspiracies, irregular con- 
sultations, seditious committees, and monstrous democratic assem- 
blies ["comitia, cornices"] of the soldiers, and all the disorders arising 
from idleness, luxury, dissipation, and insubordination, I believe the 
most astonishing means have been used that ever occurred to men, 
even in all the inventions of this prolific age. It is no less than this : 
The king has promulgated in circular letters to all the regiments his 
direct authority and encouragement, that the several corps should 
join themselves with the clubs and confederations in the several 
municipalities, and mix with them in their feasts and civic entertain- 
ments! This jolly discipline, it seems, is to soften the ferocity of their 
minds; to reconcile them to their bottle companions of other descrip- 
tions; and to merge particular conspiracies in more general associ- 
ations. 51 That this remedy would be pleasing to the soldiers, as they 
are described by M. de la Tour du Pin, I can readily believe; and 
that, however mutinous otherwise, they will dutifully submit them- 
selves to these royal proclamations. But I should question whether 
all this civic swearing, clubbing, and feasting, would dispose them, 
more than at present they are disposed, to an obedience to their 

51 Comme sa majeste" y a reconnu, non une systeme dissociations particulieres, mais 
une reunion de volontes de tous les Francois pour la liberte* et la prospe>ite communes, 
ainsi pour la maintien de 1'ordre publique; il a pense qu'il convenoit que chaque 
regiment prit part a ces fetes civiques pour multiplier les rapports et referrer les 
liens d'union entre les citoyens et les troupes. Lest I should not be credited, I insert 
the words, authorizing the troops to feast with the popular confederacies. 



346 EDMUND BURKE 

officers; or teach them better to submit to the austere rules of military 
discipline. It will make them admirable citizens after the French 
mode, but not quite so good soldiers after any mode. A doubt might 
well arise, whether the conversations at these good tables would fit 
them a great deal the better for the character of mere instruments, 
which this veteran officer and statesman justly observes the nature of 
things always requires an army to be. 

Concerning the likelihood of this improvement in discipline, by 
the free conversation of the soldiers with municipal festive societies, 
which is thus officially encouraged by royal authority and sanction, 
we may judge by the state of the municipalities themselves, fur- 
nished to us by the war minister in this very speech. He conceives 
good hopes of the success of his endeavours towards restoring order 
for the present from the good disposition of certain regiments; but 
he finds something cloudy with regard to the future. As to pre- 
venting the return of confusion, "for this, the administration (says 
he) cannot be answerable to you, as long as they see the munici- 
palities arrogate to themselves an authority over the troops, which 
your institutions have reserved wholly to the monarch. You have 
fixed the limits of the military authority and the municipal authority. 
You have bounded the action, which you have permitted to the latter 
over the former, to the right of requisition; but never did the letter 
or the spirit of your decrees authorize the commons in these munici- 
palities to break the officers, to try them, to give orders to the soldiers, 
to drive them from the posts committed to their guard, to stop them 
in their marches ordered by the king, or, in a word, to enslave the 
troops to the caprice of each of the cities, or even market town, 
through which they are to pass." 

Such is the character and disposition of the municipal society 
which is to reclaim the soldiery, to bring them back to the true 
principles of military subordination, and to render them machines in 
the hands of the supreme power of the country! Such are the dis- 
tempers of the French troops! Such is their cure! As the army is, 
so is the navy. The municipalities supersede the orders of the As- 
sembly, and the seamen in their turn supersede the orders of the 
municipalities. From my heart I pity the condition of a respectable 
servant of the public, like this war minister, obliged in his old age to 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 347 

pledge the Assembly in their civic cups, and to enter with a hoary 
head into all the fantastic vagaries of these juvenile politicians. Such 
schemes are not like propositions coming from a man of fifty years' 
wear and tear amongst mankind. They seem rather such as ought 
to be expected from those grand compounders in politics, who 
shorten the road to their degrees in the state; and have a certain 
inward fanatical assurance and illumination upon all subjects; upon 
the credit of which one of their doctors has thought fit, with great ap- 
plause, and greater success, to caution the Assembly not to attend to 
old men, or to any persons who valued themselves upon their experi- 
ence. I suppose all the ministers of state must qualify, and take this 
test; wholly abjuring the errors and heresies of experience and 
observation. Every man has his own relish. But I think if I could 
not attain to the wisdom, I would at least preserve something of the 
stiff and peremptory dignity of age. These gentlemen deal in regen- 
eration: but at any price I should hardly yield my rigid fibres to be 
regenerated by them; nor begin, in my grand climacteric, to squall 
in their new accents, or to stammer, in my second cradle, the ele- 
mental sounds of their barbarous metaphysics. 52 Si isti mihi largi- 
antur ut repueriscam, et in eorum cunis vagiam, valde recusem! 

The imbecility of any part of the puerile and pedantic system, 
which they call a constitution, cannot be laid open without discover- 
ing the utter insufficiency and mischief of every other part with 
which it comes in contact, or that bears any the remotest relation to 
it. You cannot propose a remedy for the incompetence of the crown, 
without displaying the debility of the Assembly. You cannot delib- 
erate on the confusion of the army of the state, without disclosing 
the worse disorders of the armed municipalities. The military lays 
open the civil, and the civil betrays the military, anarchy. I wish 
everybody carefully to peruse the eloquent speech (such it is) of 
Mons. de la Tour du Pin. He attributes the salvation of the munici- 
palities to the good behaviour of some of the troops. These troops are 
to preserve the well-disposed part of those municipalities, which is 
confessed to be the weakest, from the pillage of the worst disposed, 
which is the strongest. But the municipalities affect a sovereignty, 
and will command those troops which are necessary for their pro- 

52 This war minister has since quitted the school, and resigned his office. 



348 EDMUND BURKE 

tection. Indeed they must command them or court them. The mu- 
nicipalities, by the necessity of their situation, and by the republican 
powers they have obtained, must, with relation to the military, be 
the masters, or the servants, or the confederates, or each successively; 
or they must make a jumble of all together, according to circum- 
stances. What government is there to coerce the army but the munici- 
pality, or the municipality but the army ? To preserve concord where 
authority is extinguished, at the hazard of all consequences, the 
Assembly attempts to cure the distempers by the distempers them- 
selves; and they hope to preserve themselves from a purely mili- 
tary democracy, by giving it a debauched interest in the munic- 
ipal. 

If the soldiers once come to mix for any time in the municipal 
clubs, cabals, and confederacies, an elective attraction will draw 
them to the lowest and most desperate part. With them will be their 
habits, affections, and sympathies. The military conspiracies, which 
are to be remedied by civic confederacies; the rebellious munici- 
palities, which are to be rendered obedient by furnishing them with 
the means of seducing the very armies of the state that are to keep 
them in order; all these chimeras of a monstrous and portentous 
policy must aggravate the confusion from which they have arisen. 
There must be blood. The want of common judgment manifested 
in the construction of all their descriptions of forces, and in all their 
kinds of civil and judicial authorities, will make it flow. Disorders 
may be quieted in one time and in one part. They will break out 
in others; because the evil is radical and intrinsic. All these schemes 
of mixing mutinous soldiers with seditious citizens must weaken 
still more and more the military connexion of soldiers with their 
officers, as well as add military and mutinous audacity to turbulent 
artificers and peasants. To secure a real army, the officer should be 
first and last in the eye of the soldier; first and last in his attention, 
observance, and esteem. Officers it seems there are to be, whose chief 
qualification must be temper and patience. They are to manage their 
troops by electioneering arts. They must bear themselves as candi- 
dates, not as commanders. But as by such means power may be 
occasionally in their hands, the authority by which they are to be 
nominated becomes of high importance. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 349 

What you may do finally does not appear; nor is it of much mo- 
ment, whilst the strange and contradictory relation between your 
army and all the parts of your republic, as well as the puzzled rela- 
tion of those parts to each other and to the whole, remain as they 
are. You seem to have given the provisional nomination of the 
officers, in the first instance, to the king, with a reserve of approba- 
tion by the National Assembly. Men who have an interest to pur- 
sue are extremely sagacious in discovering the true seat of power. 
They must soon perceive that those, who can negative indefinitely, 
in reality appoint. The officers must therefore look to their intrigues 
in that Assembly, as the sole, certain road to promotion. Still, how- 
ever, by your new constitution they must begin their solicitation at 
court. This double negotiation for military rank seems to me a con- 
trivance as well adapted, as if it were studied for no other end, to 
promote faction in the Assembly itself, relative to this vast military 
patronage; and then to poison the corps of officers with factions of a 
nature still more dangerous to the safety of government, upon any 
bottom on which it can be placed, and destructive in the end to the 
efficiency of the army itself. Those officers, who lose the promotions 
intended for them by the crown, must become of a faction opposite 
to that of the Assembly, which has rejected their claims, and must 
nourish discontents in the heart of the army against the ruling 
powers. Those officers, on the other hand, who, by carrying their 
point through an interest in the Assembly, feel themselves to be at 
best only second in the good-will of the crown, though first in that 
of the Assembly, must slight an authority which would not advance 
and could not retard their promotion. If to avoid these evils you 
will have no other rule for command or promotion than seniority, 
you will have an army of formality; at the same time it will become 
more independent, and more of a military republic. Not they, but the 
king is the machine. A king is not to be deposed by halves. If he is 
not everything in the command of an army, he is nothing. What is 
the effect of a power placed nominally at the head of the army, who 
to that army is no object of gratitude, or of fear? Such a cipher is not 
fit for the administration of an object, of all things the most delicate, 
the supreme command of military men. They must be constrained 
(and their inclinations lead them to what their necessities require) 



35 EDMUND BURKE 

by a real, vigorous, effective, decided, personal authority. The au- 
thority of the Assembly itself suffers by passing through such a de- 
bilitating channel as they have chosen. The army will not long look 
to an assembly acting through the organ of false show, and palpable 
imposition. They will not seriously yield obedience to a prisoner. 
They will either despise a pageant, or they will pity a captive king. 
This relation of your army to the crown will, if I am not greatly mis- 
taken, become a serious dilemma in your politics. 

It is besides to be considered, whether an assembly like yours, 
even supposing that it was in possession of another sort of organ 
through which its orders were to pass, is fit for promoting the obedi- 
ence and discipline of an army. It is known, that armies have hith- 
erto yielded a very precarious and uncertain obedience to any senate, 
or popular authority; and they will least of all yield it to an assembly 
which is only to have a continuance of two years. The officers must 
totally lose the characteristic disposition of military men, if they see 
with perfect submission and due admiration, the dominion of plead- 
ers; especially when they find that they have a new court to pay 
to an endless succession of those pleaders; whose military policy, 
and the genius of whose command, (if they should have any,) must 
be as uncertain as their duration is transient. In the weakness of one 
kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of ,an 
army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until 
some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the 
soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw 
the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his per- 
sonal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience 
in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall 
happen, the person who really commands the army is your master; 
the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, 
the master of your whole republic. 

How came the Assembly by their present power over the army? 
Chiefly, to be sure, by debauching the soldiers from their officers. 
They have begun by a most terrible operation. They have touched 
the central point, about which the particles that compose armies are 
at repose. They have destroyed the principle of obedience in the 
great, essential, critical link between the officer and the soldier, just 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 351 

where the chain of military subordination commences and on which 
the whole of that system depends. The soldier is told he is a citizen, 
and has the rights of man and citizen. The right of a man, he is told, 
is to be his own governor, and to be ruled only by those to whom he 
delegates that self-government. It is very natural he should think that 
he ought most of all to have his choice where he is to yield the great- 
est degree of obedience. He will therefore, in all probability, sys- 
tematically do, what he does at present occasionally; that is, he will 
exercise at least a negative in the choice of his officers. At present 
the officers are known at best to be only permissive, and on their good 
behaviour. In fact, there have been many instances in which they 
have been cashiered by their corps. Here is a second negative on the 
choice of the king; a negative as effectual at least as the other of the 
Assembly. The soldiers know already that it has been a question, not 
ill received in the National Assembly, whether they ought not to 
have the direct choice of their officers, or some proportion of them? 
When such matters are in deliberation it is no extravagant suppo- 
sition that they will incline to the opinion most favourable to their 
pretensions. They will not bear to be deemed the army of an im- 
prisoned king, whilst another army in the same country, with whom 
too they are to feast and confederate, is to be considered as the free 
army of a free constitution. They will cast their eyes on the other 
and more permanent army; I mean the municipal. That corps, they 
well know, does actually elect its own officers. They may not be able 
to discern the grounds of distinction on which they are not to elect 
a Marquis de la Fayette (or what is his new name?) of their own. 
If this election of a commander-in-chief be a part of the rights of 
men, why not of theirs? They see elective justices of peace, elective 
judges, elective curates, elective bishops, elective municipalities, and 
elective commanders of the Parisian army. Why should they alone 
be excluded? Are the brave troops of France the only men in that 
nation who are not the fit judges of military merit, and of the quali- 
fications necessary for a commander-in-chief? Are they paid by the 
state, and do they therefore lose the rights of men ? They are a part 
of that nation themselves, and contribute to that pay. And is not 
the king, is not the National Assembly, and are not all who elect 
the National Assembly likewise paid? Instead of seeing all these 



35 2 EDMUND BURKE 

forfeit their rights by their receiving a salary, they perceive that in 
all these cases a salary is given for the exercise of those rights. All 
your resolutions, all your proceedings, all your debates, all the works 
of your doctors in religion and politics, have industriously been put 
into their hands; and you expect that they will apply to their own 
case just as much of your doctrines and examples as suits your 
pleasure. 

Everything depends upon the army in such a government as yours; 
for you have industriously destroyed all the opinions, and prejudices, 
and, as far as in you lay, all the instincts which support government. 
Therefore the moment any difference arises between your National 
Assembly and any part of the nation, you must have recourse to 
force. Nothing else is left to you; or rather you have left nothing 
else to yourselves. You see, by the report of your war minister, that 
the distribution of the army is in a great measure made with a view 
of internal coercion. 53 You must rule by an army; and you have 
infused into that army by which you rule, as well as into the whole 
body of the nation, principles which after a time must disable you 
in the use you resolve to make of it. The king is to call out troops 
to act against his people, when the world has been told, and the 
assertion is still ringing in our ears, that troops ought not to fire on 
citizens. The colonies assert to themselves an independent constitu- 
tion and a free trade. They must be constrained by troops. In what 
chapter of your code of the rights of men are they able to read, that 
it is a part of the rights of men to have their commerce monopolized 
and restrained for the benefit of others? As the colonists rise on 
you, the negroes rise on them. Troops again Massacre, torture, 
hanging! These are your rights of men! These are the fruits of 
metaphysic declarations wantonly made, and shamefully retracted! 
It was but the other day, that the farmers of land in one of your 
provinces refused to pay some sort of rents to the lord of the soil. 
In consequence of this, you decree, that the country people shall pay 
all rents and dues, except those which as grievances you have abol- 
ished; and if they refuse, then you order the king to march troops 
against them. You lay down metaphysic propositions which infer 
universal consequences, and then you attempt to limit logic by 

53 Courier Francois, soth July, 1790. Assemble Nationale, Numero 210. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 353 

despotism. The leaders of the present system tell them of their 
rights, as men, to take fortresses, to murder guards, to seize on kings 
without the least appearance of authority even from the Assembly, 
whilst, as the sovereign legislative body, that Assembly was sitting 
in the name of the nation and yet these leaders presume to order 
out the troops which have acted in these very disorders, to coerce 
those who shall judge on the principles, and follow the examples, 
which have been guaranteed by their own approbation. 

The leaders teach the people to abhor and reject all feodality as 
the barbarism of tyranny, and they tell them afterwards how much 
of that barbarous tyranny they are to bear with patience. As they are 
prodigal of light with regard to grievances, so the people find them 
sparing in the extreme with regard to redress. They know that not 
only certain quit-rents and personal duties, which you have per- 
mitted them to redeem, (but have furnished no money for the re- 
demption,) are as nothing to those burthens for which you have 
made no provision at all. They know, that almost the whole sys- 
tem of landed property in its origin is feudal; that it is the distribu- 
tion of the possessions of the original proprietors, made by a bar- 
barous conqueror to his barbarous instruments; and that the most 
grievous effects of the conquest are the land rents of every kind, as 
without question they are. 

The peasants, in all probability, are the descendants of these 
ancient proprietors, Romans or Gauls. But if they fail, in any degree, 
in the titles which they make on the principles of antiquaries and 
lawyers, they retreat into the citadel of the rights of men. There 
they find that men are equal; and the earth, the kind and equal 
mother of all, ought not to be monopolized to foster the pride and 
luxury of any men, who by nature are no better than themselves, 
and who, if they do not labour for their bread, are worse. They find, 
that by the laws of nature the occupant and subduer of the soil is 
the true proprietor; that there is no prescription against nature; and 
that the agreements (where any there are) which have been made 
with the landlords, during the time of slavery, are only the effect of 
duresse and force; and that when the people re-entered into the rights 
of men, those agreements were made as void, as everything else 
which had been settled under the prevalence of the old feudal and 



354 EDMUND BURKE 

aristocratic tyranny. They will tell you that they see no difference 
between an idler with a hat and a national cockade, and an idler in 
a cowl, or in a rochet. I you ground the title to rents on succession 
and prescription, they tell you from the speech of M. Camus, pub- 
lished by the National Assembly for their information, that things 
ill begun cannot avail themselves of prescription; that the title of 
these lords was vicious in its origin; and that force is at least as bad 
as fraud. As to the title by succession, they will tell you, that the 
succession of those who have cultivated the soil is the true pedigree 
of property, and not rotten parchments and silly substitutions; that 
the lords have enjoyed their usurpation too long; and that if they 
allow to these lay monks any charitable pension, they ought to be 
thankful to the bounty of the true proprietor, who is so generous 
towards a false claimant to his goods. 

When the peasants give you back that coin of sophistic reason, on 
which you have set your image and superscription, you cry it down 
as base money, and tell them you will pay for the future with French 
guards, and dragoons, and hussars. You hold up, to chastise them, 
the second-hand authority of a king, who is only the instrument of 
destroying, without any power of protecting either the people or his 
own person. Through him it seems you will make yourselves 
obeyed. They answer, You have taught us that there are no gentle- 
men; and which of your principles teach us to bow to kings whom 
we have not elected? We know without your teaching, that lands 
were given for the support of feudal dignities, feudal titles, and 
feudal offices. When you took down the cause as a grievance, why 
should the more grievous effect remain ? As there are now no heredi- 
tary honours, and no distinguished families, why are we taxed to 
maintain what you tell us ought not to exist? You have sent down 
our old aristocratic landlords in no other character, and with no 
other title, but that of exactors under your authority. Have you en- 
deavoured to make these your rent-gatherers respectable to us? No. 
You have sent them to us with their arms reversed, their shields 
broken, their impresses defaced; and so displumed, degraded, and 
metamorphosed, such unfeathered two-legged things, that we no 
longer know them. They are strangers to us. They do not even go 
by the names of our ancient lords. Physically they may be the same 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 355 

men; though we are not quite sure of that, on your new philosophic 
doctrines of personal identity. In all other respects they are totally 
changed. We do not see why we have not as good a right to refuse 
them their rents as you have to abrogate all their honours, titles, and 
distinctions. This we have never commissioned you to do; and it is 
one instance, among many indeed, of your assumption of undele- 
gated power. We see the burghers of Paris, through their clubs, 
their mobs, and their national guards, directing you at their pleasure, 
and giving that as law to you, which, under your authority is trans- 
mitted as law to us. Through you these burghers dispose of the 
lives and fortunes of us all. Why should not you attend as much to 
the desires of the laborious husbandman with regard to our rent, by 
which we are affected in the most serious manner, as you do to the 
demands of these insolent burghers, relative to distinctions and titles 
of honour, by which neither they nor we are affected at all? But 
we find you pay more regard to their fancies than to our necessities. 
Is it among the rights of man to pay tribute to his equals? Before 
this measure of yours, we might have thought we were not perfectly 
equal. We might have entertained some old, habitual, unmeaning 
prepossession in favour of those landlords; but we cannot conceive 
with what other view than that of destroying all respect to them, 
you could have made the law that degrades them. You have for- 
bidden us to treat them with any of the old formalities of respect, 
and now you send troops to sabre and to bayonet us into a submission 
to fear and force, which you did not suffer us to yield to the mild 
authority of opinion. 

The ground of some of these arguments is horrid and ridiculous 
to all rational ears; but to the politicians of metaphysics who have 
opened schools for sophistry, and made establishments for anarchy, 
it is solid and conclusive. It is obvious, that on a mere consideration 
of the right, the leaders in the Assembly would not in the least have 
scrupled to abrogate the rents along with the titles and family en- 
signs. It would be only to follow up the principle of their reason- 
ings, and to complete the analogy of their conduct. But they had 
newly possessed themselves of a great body of landed property by 
confiscation. They had this commodity at market; and the market 
would have been wholly destroyed, if they were to permit the hus- 



EDMUND BURKE 

bandmen to riot in the speculations with which they so freely intoxi- 
cated themselves. The only security which property enjoys in any 
one of its descriptions, is from the interests of their rapacity with 
regard to some other. They have left nothing but their own arbi- 
trary pleasure, to determine what property is to be protected and 
what subverted. 

Neither have they left any principle by which any of their munici- 
palities can be bound to obedience; or even conscientiously obliged 
not to separate from the whole to become independent, or to connect 
itself with some other state. The people of Lyons, it seems, have re- 
fused lately to pay taxes. Why should they not? What lawful au- 
thority is there left to exact them ? The king imposed some of them. 
The old states, methodized by orders, settled the more ancient. They 
may say to the Assembly, Who are you, that are not our kings, nor 
the states we have elected, nor sit on the principles on which we have 
elected you ? And who are we, that when we see the gabelles, which 
you have ordered to be paid, wholly shaken off, when we see the 
act of disobedience afterwards ratified by yourselves, who are we, 
that we are not to judge what taxes we ought or ought not to pay, 
and who are not to avail ourselves of the same powers, the validity of 
which you have approved in others? To this the answer is, We 
will send troops. The last reason of kings is always the first with 
your Assembly. This military aid may serve for a time, whilst the 
impression of the increase of pay remains, and the vanity of being 
umpires in all disputes is flattered. But this weapon will snap short, 
unfaithful to the hand that employs it. The Assembly keep a school, 
where, systematically, and with unremitting perseverance, they teach 
principles, and form regulations, destructive to all spirit of subordi- 
nation, civil and military and then they expect that they shall hold 
in obedience an anarchic people by an anarchic army. 

The municipal army which, according to the new policy, is to 
balance this national army, if considered in itself only, is of a consti- 
tution much more simple, and in every respect less exceptionable. 
It is a mere democratic body, unconnected with the crown or the 
kingdom; armed, and trained, and officered at the pleasure of the 
districts to which the corps severally belong; and the personal service 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 357 

of the individuals, who compose, or the fine in lieu of personal 
service, are directed by the same authority. 54 Nothing is more uni- 
form. If, however, considered in any relation to the crown, to the 
National Assembly, to the public tribunals, or to the other army, 
or considered in a view to any coherence or connexion between its 
parts, it seems a monster, and can hardly fail to terminate its per- 
plexed movements in some great national calamity. It is a worse 
preservative of a general constitution, than the systasis of Crete, or 
the confederation of Poland, or any other ill-devised corrective which 
has yet been imagined, in the necessities produced by an ill-con- 
structed system of government. 

Having concluded my few remarks on the constitution of the 
supreme power, the executive, the judicature, the military, and on 
the reciprocal relation of all these establishments, I shall say some- 
thing of the ability showed by your legislators with regard to the 
revenue. 

In their proceedings relative to this object, if possible, still fewer 
traces appear of political judgment or financial resource. When the 
states met, it seemed to be the great object to improve the system of 
revenue, to enlarge its collection, to cleanse it of oppression and vexa- 
tion, and to establish it on the most solid footing. Great were the 
expectations entertained on that head throughout Europe. It was 
by this grand arrangement that France was to stand or fall; and 
this became, in my opinion, very properly, the test by which the skill 
and patriotism of those who ruled in that Assembly would be tried. 
The revenue of the state is the state. In effect all depends upon it, 
whether for support or for reformation. The dignity of every occu- 
pation wholly depends upon the quantity and the kind of virtue 
that may be exerted in it. As all great qualities of the mind which 
operate in public, and are not merely suffering and passive, require 
force for their display, I had almost said for their unequivocal exist- 
ence, the revenue, which is the spring of all power, becomes in its 

54 1 see by M. Necker's account, that the national guards of Paris have received, over 
and above the money levied within their own city, about , 145,000 sterling out of the 
public treasure. Whether this be an actual payment for the nine months of their 
existence, or an estimate of their yearly charge, I do not clearly perceive. It is of no 
great importance, as certainly they may take whatever they please. 



EDMUND BURKE 

administration the sphere of every active virtue. Public virtue, being 
of a nature magnificent and splendid, instituted for great things, 
and conversant about great concerns, requires abundant scope and 
room and cannot spread and grow under confinement, and in cir-' 
cumstances straitened, narrow, and sordid. Through the revenue 
alone the body politic can act in its true genius and character, and 
therefore it will display just as much of its collective virtue, and as 
much of that virtue which may characterize those who move it, 
and are, as it were, its life and guiding principle, as it is possessed 
of a just revenue. For from hence not only magnanimity, and liber- 
ality, and beneficence, and fortitude, and providence, and the tutelary 
protection of all good arts, derive their food, and the growth of their 
organs, but continence, and self-denial, and labour, and vigilance, 
and frugality, and whatever else there is in which the mind shows 
itself above the appetite, are nowhere more in their proper element 
than in the provision and distribution of the public wealth. It is 
therefore not without reason that the science of speculative and prac- 
tical finance, which must take to its aid so many auxiliary branches 
of knowledge, stands high in the estimation not only of the ordinary 
sort, but of the wisest and best men; and as this science has grown 
with the progress of its object, the prosperity and improvement of 
nations has generally increased with the increase of their revenues; 
and they will both continue to grow and flourish, as long as the bal- 
ance between what is left to strengthen the efforts of individuals, 
and what is collected for the common efforts of the state, bear to 
each other a due reciprocal proportion, and are kept in a close cor- 
respondence and communication. And perhaps it may be owing to 
the greatness of revenues, and to the urgency of state necessities, 
that old abuses in the constitution of finances are discovered, and 
their true nature and rational theory comes to be more perfectly 
understood; insomuch, that a smaller revenue might have been more 
distressing in one period than a far greater is found to be in another; 
the proportionate wealth even remaining the same. In this state of 
things, the French Assembly found something in their revenues to 
preserve, to secure, and wisely to administer, as well as to abrogate 
and alter. Though their proud assumption might justify the severest 
tests, yet in trying their abilities on their financial proceedings, I 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 359 

would only consider what is the plain, obvious duty of a common 
finance minister, and try them upon that, and not upon models of 
ideal perfection. 

The objects of a financier are, then, to secure an ample revenue; to 
impose it with judgment and equality; to employ it economically; 
and, when necessity obliges him to make use of credit, to secure its 
foundations in that instance, and for ever, by the clearness and 
candour of his proceedings, the exactness of his calculations, and the 
solidity of his funds. On these heads we may take a short and dis- 
tinct view of the merits and abilities of those in the National Assem- 
bly, who have taken to themselves the management of this arduous 
concern. Far from any increase of revenue in their hands, I find, by 
a report of M. Vernier, from the committee of finances, of the second 
of August last, that the amount of the national revenue, as compared 
with its produce before the Revolution, was diminished by the sum 
of two hundred millions, or eight millions sterling of the annual 
income, considerably more than one-third of the whole. 

If this be the result of great ability, never surely was ability dis- 
played in a more distinguished manner, or with so powerful an 
effect. No common folly, no vulgar incapacity, no ordinary official 
negligence, even no official crime, no corruption, no peculation, 
hardly any direct hostility which we have seen in the modern world, 
could in so short a time have made so complete an overthrow of the 
finances, and with them, of the strength of a great kingdom. Cedd 
qui vestram rempublicam tantam amisistis tarn cito? 

The sophisters and declaimers, as soon as the Assembly met, began 
with decrying the ancient constitution of the revenue in many of its 
most essential branches, such as the public monopoly of salt. They 
charged it, as truly as unwisely, with being ill-contrived, oppressive, 
and partial. This representation they were not satisfied to make use 
of in speeches preliminary to some plan of reform; they declared 
it in a solemn resolution or public sentence, as it were judicially, 
passed upon it; and this they dispersed throughout the nation. At 
the time they passed the decree, with the same gravity they ordered 
the same absurd, oppressive, and partial tax to be paid, until they 
could find a revenue to replace it. The consequence was inevitable. 
The provinces which had been always exempted from this salt 



360 EDMUND BURKE 

monopoly, some of whom were charged with other contributions, 
perhaps equivalent, were totally disinclined to bear any part of the 
burthen, which by an equal distribution was to redeem the others.- 
As to the Assembly, occupied as it was with the declaration and 
violation of the rights of men, and with their arrangements for gen- 
eral confusion, it had neither leisure nor capacity to contrive, nor 
authority to enforce, any plan of any kind relative to the replacing 
the tax or equalizing it, or compensating the provinces, or for con- 
ducting their minds to any scheme of accommodation with other 
districts which were to be relieved. 

The people of the salt provinces, impatient under taxes, damned 
by the authority which had directed their payment, very soon found 
their patience exhausted. They thought themselves as skilful in de- 
molishing as the Assembly could be. They relieved themselves by 
throwing off the whole burthen. Animated by this example, each 
district, or part of a district, judging of its own grievance by its own 
feeling, and of its remedy by its own opinion, did as it pleased 
with other taxes. 

We are next to see how they have conducted themselves in contriv- 
ing equal impositions, proportioned to the means of the citizens, and 
the least likely to lean heavy on the active capital employed in the 
generation of that private wealth, from whence the public fortune 
must be derived. By suffering the several districts, and several of the 
individuals in each district, to judge of what part of the old revenue 
they might withhold, instead of better principles of equality, a new 
inequality was introduced of the most oppressive kind. Payments 
were regulated by dispositions. The parts of the kingdom which 
were the most submissive, the most orderly, or the most affectionate 
to the commonwealth, bore the whole burthen of the state. Nothing 
turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government. To 
fill up all the deficiencies in the old impositions, and the new defi- 
ciencies of every kind which were to be expected, what remained to 
a state without authority? The National Assembly called for a 
voluntary benevolence; for a fourth part of the income of all the 
citizens, to be estimated on the honour of those who were to pay. 
They obtained something more than could be rationally calculated, 
but what was far indeed from answerable to their real necessities, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 361 

and much less to their fond expectations. Rational people could have 
hoped for little from this their tax in the disguise of a benevolence; 
a tax weak, ineffective, and unequal; a tax by which luxury, avarice, 
and selfishness were screened, and the load thrown upon productive 
capital, upon integrity, generosity, and public spirit a tax of regu- 
lation upon virtue. At length the mask is thrown off, and they are 
now trying means (with little success) of exacting their benevolence 
by force. 

This benevolence, the ricketty offspring of weakness, was to be 
supported by another resource, the twin brother of the same prolific 
imbecility. The patriotic donations were to make good the failure of 
the patriotic contribution. John Doe was to become security for 
Richard Roe. By this scheme they took things of much price from 
the giver, comparatively of small value to the receiver; they ruined 
several trades; they pillaged the crown of its ornaments, the churches 
of their plate, and the people of their personal decorations. The in- 
vention of these juvenile pretenders to liberty was in reality nothing 
more than a servile imitation of one of the poorest resources of doting 
despotism. They took an old huge full-bottomed periwig out of the 
wardrobe of the antiquated frippery of Louis the Fourteenth, to 
cover the premature baldness of the National Assembly. They pro- 
duced this old-fashioned formal folly, though it had been so abun- 
dantly exposed in the Memoirs of the Duke de St. Simon, if to 
reasonable men it had wanted any arguments to display its mischief 
and insufficiency. A device of the same kind was tried in my mem- 
ory by Louis the Fifteenth, but it answered at no time. However, 
the necessities of ruinous wars were some excuse for desperate proj- 
ects. The deliberations of calamity are rarely wise. But here was a 
season for disposition and providence. It was in a time of profound 
peace, then enjoyed for five years, and promising a much longer 
continuance, that they had recourse to this desperate trifling. They 
were sure to lose more reputation by sporting, in their serious situa- 
tion, with these toys and playthings of finance, which have filled 
half their journals, than could possibly be compensated by the poor 
temporary supply which they afforded. It seemed as if those who 
adopted such projects were wholly ignorant of their circumstances, 
or wholly unequal to their necessities. Whatever virtue may be in 



362 EDMUND BURKE 

these devices, it is obvious that neither the patriotic gifts, nor the 
patriotic contribution, can ever be resorted to again. The resources 
of public folly are soon exhausted. The whole indeed of their scheme 
of revenue is to make, by any artifice, an appearance of a full reser- 
voir for the hour, whilst at the same time they cut off the springs 
and living fountains of perennial supply. The account not long 
since furnished by M. Necker was meant, without question, to be 
favourable. He gives a flattering view of the means of getting 
through the year; but he expresses, as it is natural he should, some 
apprehension for that which was to succeed. On this last prognostic, 
instead of entering into the grounds of this apprehension, in order, 
by a proper foresight, to prevent the prognosticated evil, M. Necker 
receives a sort of friendly reprimand from the president of the 
Assembly. 

As to their other schemes of taxation, it is impossible to say any- 
thing of them with certainty; because they have not yet had their 
operation: but nobody is so sanguine as to imagine they will fill up 
any perceptible part of the wide gaping breach which their incapac- 
ity has made in their revenues. At present the state of their treasury 
sinks every day more and more in cash, and swells more and more 
in fictitious representation. When so little within or without is now 
found but paper, the representative not of opulence but of want, 
the creature not of credit but of power, they imagine that our flour- 
ishing state in England is owing to that bank-paper, and not the 
bank-paper to the flourishing condition of our commerce, to the 
solidity of our credit, and to the total exclusion of all idea of power 
from any part of the transaction. They forget that, in England, not 
one shilling of paper-money of any description is received but of 
choice; that the whole has had its origin in cash actually deposited; 
and that it is convertible at pleasure, in an instant, and without the 
smallest loss, into cash again. Our paper is of value in commerce, 
because in law it is of none. It is powerful on 'Change, because in 
Westminster Hall it is impotent. In payment of a debt of twenty 
shillings, a creditor may refuse all the paper of the bank of England. 
Nor is there amongst us a single public security, of any quality or 
nature whatsoever, that is enforced by authority. In fact it might 
be easily shown, that our paper wealth, instead of lessening the real 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 363 

coin, has a tendency to increase it; instead of being a substitute for 
money, it only facilitates its entry, its exit, and its circulation; that 
it is the symbol of prosperity, and not the badge of distress. Never 
was a scarcity of cash, and an exuberance of paper, a subject of com- 
plaint in this nation. 

Well! but a lessening of prodigal expenses, and the economy which 
has been introduced by the virtuous and sapient Assembly, make 
amends for the losses sustained in the receipt of revenue. In this at 
least they have fulfilled the duty of a financier. Have those, who 
say so, looked at the expenses of the National Assembly itself? of 
the municipalities? of the city of Paris? of the increased pay of the 
two armies? of the new police? of the new judicatures? Have they 
even carefully compared the present pension list with the former? 
These politicians have been cruel, not economical. Comparing the 
expense of the former prodigal government and its relation to the 
then revenues with the expenses of this new system as opposed to 
the state of its new treasury, I believe the present will be found 
beyond all comparison more chargeable. 55 

It remains only to consider the proofs of financial ability, furnished 
by the present French managers when they are to raise supplies on 
credit. Here I am a little at a stand; for credit, properly speaking, 
they have none. The credit of the ancient government was not in- 
deed the best; but they could always, on some terms, command 
money, not only at home, but from most of the countries of Europe 
where a surplus capital was accumulated; and the credit of that gov- 
ernment was improving daily. The establishment of a system of lib- 
erty would of course be supposed to give it new strength: and so it 
would actually have done, if a system of liberty had been established. 

55 The reader will observe, that I have but lightly touched (my plan demanded 
nothing more) on the condition of the French finances, as connected with the demands 
upon them. If I had intended to do otherwise, the materials in my hands for such 
a task are not altogether perfect. On this subject I refer the reader to M. de Calonne's 
work; and the tremendous display that he has made of the havoc and devastation in 
the public estate, and in all the affairs of France, caused by the presumptuous good 
intentions of ignorance and incapacity. Such effects those causes will always produce. 
Looking over that account with a pretty strict eye, and, with perhaps too much rigour, 
deducting everything which may be placed to the account of a financier out of place, 
who might be supposed by his enemies desirous of making the most of his cause, 
I believe it will be found, that a more salutary lesson of caution against the daring 
spirit of innovators, than what has been supplied at the expense of France, never 
was at any time furnished to mankind. 



364 EDMUND BURKE 

What offers has their government of pretended liberty had from Hol- 
land, from Hamburgh, from Switzerland, from Genoa, from Eng- 
land, for a dealing in their paper? Why should these nations of com- 
merce and economy enter into any pecuniary dealings with a people, 
who attempt to reverse the very nature of things; amongst whom 
they see the debtor prescribing at the point of the bayonet, the 
medium of his solvency to the creditor; discharging one of his en- 
gagements with another; turning his very penury into his resource; 
and paying his interest with his rags ? 

Their fanatical confidence in the omnipotence of church plunder 
has induced these philosophers to overlook all care of the public 
estate, just as the dream of the philosopher's stone induces dupes, 
under the more plausible delusion of the hermetic art, to neglect all 
rational means of improving their fortunes. With these philosophic 
financiers, this universal medicine made of church mummy is to cure 
all the evils of the state. These gentlemen perhaps do not believe 
a great deal in the miracles of piety; but it cannot be questioned, that 
they have an undoubting faith in the prodigies of sacrilege. Is there 
a debt which presses them? Issue assignats. Are compensations to 
be made, or a maintenance decreed to those whom they have robbed 
of their freehold in their office, or expelled from their profession? 
Assignats. Is a fleet to be fitted out ? Assignats. If sixteen millions 
sterling of these assignats, forced on the people, leave the wants of 
the state as urgent as ever issue, says one, thirty millions sterling 
of assignats says another, issue fourscore millions more of assignats. 
The only difference among their financial factions is on the greater 
or the lesser quantity of assignats to be imposed on the public suffer- 
ance. They are all professors of assignats. Even those, whose natu- 
ral good sense and knowledge of commerce, not obliterated by 
philosophy, furnish decisive arguments against this delusion, con- 
clude their arguments, by proposing the emission of assignats. I 
suppose they must talk of assignats, as no other language would be 
understood. All experience of their inefficiency does not in the least 
discourage them. Are the old assignats depreciated at market? 
What is the remedy? Issue new assignats. Mais si maladia, oponia- 
tria, non vult se garire, quid illi facere? assignare postea assignare', 
ensuita assignare. The word is a trifle altered. The Latin of your 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 365 

present doctors may be better than that of your old comedy; their 
wisdom and the variety of their resources are the same. They have 
not more notes in their song than the cuckoo; though, far from the 
softness of that harbinger of summer and plenty, their voice is as 
harsh and as ominous as that of the raven. 

Who but the most desperate adventurers in philosophy and finance 
could at all have thought of destroying the settled revenue of the 
state, the sole security for the public credit, in the hope of rebuild- 
ing it with the materials of confiscated property? If, however, an 
excessive zeal for the state should have led a pious and venerable 
prelate (by anticipation a father of the church 56 ) to pillage his own 
order, and, for the good of the church and people, to take upon 
himself the place of grand financier of confiscation, and comptroller- 
general of sacrilege, he and his coadjutors were in my opinion, 
bound to show, by their subsequent conduct, that they knew some- 
thing of the office they assumed. When they had resolved to appro- 
priate to the Fisc, a certain portion of the landed property of their 
conquered country, it was their business to render their bank 
a real fund of credit, as far as such a bank was capable of becom- 
ing so. 

To establish a current circulating credit upon any Land-ban^ 
under any circumstances whatsoever, has hitherto proved difficult at 
the very least. The attempt has commonly ended in bankruptcy. 
But when the Assembly were led, through a contempt of moral, to 
a defiance of economical, principles, it might at least have been ex- 
pected, that nothing would be omitted on their part to lessen this 
difficulty, to prevent any aggravation of this bankruptcy. It might 
be expected, that to render your Land-ban ^ tolerable, every means 
would be adopted that could display openness and candour in the 
statement of the security; everything which could aid the recovery 
of the demand. To take things in their most favourable point of 
view, your condition was that of a man of a large landed estate, 
which he wished to dispose of for the discharge of a debt, and the 
supply of certain services. Not being able instantly to sell, you 
wished to mortgage. What would a man of fair intentions, and a 
commonly clear understanding, do in such circumstances? Ought 

56 La Bruy^re of Bossuet. 



366 EDMUND BURKE 

he not first to ascertain the gross value of the estate; the charges of 
its management and disposition; the encumbrances perpetual and 
temporary of all kinds that affect it; then, striking a net surplus, 
to calculate the just value of the security? When that surplus (the 
only security to the creditor) had been clearly ascertained, and prop- 
erly vested in the hands of trustees; then he would indicate the par- 
cels to be sold, and the time and conditions of sale; after this, he 
would admit the public creditor, if he chose it, to subscribe his stock 
into this new fund; or he might receive proposals for an assignat 
from those who would advance money to purchase this species of 
security. 

This would be to proceed like men of business, methodically and 
rationally; and on the only principles of public and private credit 
that have an existence. The dealer would then know exactly what 
he purchased; and the only doubt which could hang upon his mind 
would be, the dread of the resumption of the spoil, which one day 
might be made (perhaps with an addition of punishment) from the 
sacrilegious gripe of those execrable wretches who could become 
purchasers at the auction of their innocent fellow-citizens. 

An open and exact statement of the clear value of the property, 
and of the time, the circumstances, and the place of sale, were all 
necessary, to efface as much as possible the stigma that has hitherto 
been branded on every kind of Land-bank. It became necessary on 
another principle, that is, on account of a pledge of faith previously 
given on that subject, that their future fidelity in a slippery concern 
might be established by their adherence to their first engagement. 
When they had finally determined on a state resource from church 
booty, they came, on the I4th of April, 1790, to a solemn resolu- 
tion on the subject; and pledged themselves to their country, 
"that in the statement of the public charges for each year, there 
should be brought to account a sum sufficient for defraying the 
expenses of the R. C. A. religion, the support of the ministers at the 
altars, the relief of the poor, the pensions to the ecclesiastics, secular 
as well as regular, of the one and of the other sex, in order that the 
estates and goods which are at the disposal of the nation may be 
disengaged of all charges, and employed by the representatives, or 
the legislative body, to the great and most pressing exigencies of 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 367 

the state." They further engaged, on the same day, that the sum 
necessary for the year 1791 should be forthwith determined. 

In this resolution they admit it their duty to show distinctly the 
expense of the above objects, which, by other resolutions, they had 
before engaged should be first in the order of provision. They admit 
that they ought to show the estate clear and disengaged of all 
charges, and that they should show it immediately. Have they done 
this immediately, or at any time? Have they ever furnished a rent- 
roll of the immovable estates, or given in an inventory of the mov- 
able effects, which they confiscate to their assignats? In what man- 
ner they can fulfill their engagements of holding out to public 
service, "an estate disengaged of all charges," without authenticating 
the value of the estate, or the quantum of the charges, I leave it to 
their English admirers to explain. Instantly upon this assurance, 
and previously to any one step towards making it good, they issue, 
on the credit of so handsome a declaration, sixteen millions sterling 
of their paper. This was manly. Who, after this masterly stroke, 
can doubt of their abilities in finance? But then, before any other 
emission of these financial indulgences, they took care at least to 
make good their original promise! If such estimate, either of the 
value of the estate or the amount of the encumbrances, has been 
made, it has escaped me. I never heard of it. 

At length they have spoken out, and they have made a full dis- 
covery of their abominable fraud, in holding out the church lands 
as a security for any debts, or any service whatsoever. They rob 
only to enable them to cheat; but in a very short time they defeat the 
ends both of the robbery and the fraud, by making out accounts 
for other purposes, which blow up their whole apparatus of force 
and of deception. I am obliged to M. de Calonne for his reference 
to the document which proves this extraordinary fact; it had by 
some means escaped me. Indeed it was not necessary to make out 
my assertion as to the breach of faith on the declaration of the I4th 
of April, 1790. By a report of their committee it now appears, that 
the charge of keeping up the reduced ecclesiastical establishments, 
and other expenses attendant on religion, and maintaining the re- 
ligious of both sexes, retained or pensioned, and the other concom- 
itant expenses of the same nature, which they have brought upon 



368 EDMUND BURKE 

themselves by this convulsion in property, exceeds the income of the 
estates acquired by it in the enormous sum of two millions sterling 
annually; besides a debt of seven millions and upwards. These are 
the calculating powers of imposture! This is the finance of philoso- 
phy! This is the result of all the delusions held out to engage a 
miserable people in rebellion, murder, and sacrilege, and to make 
them prompt and zealous instruments in the ruin of their country! 
Never did a state, in any case, enrich itself by the confiscations of 
the citizens. This new experiment has succeeded like all the rest. 
Every honest mind, every true lover of liberty and humanity, must 
rejoice to find that injustice is not always good policy, nor rapine the 
high road to riches. I subjoin with pleasure, in a note, the able and 
spirited observations of M. de Calonne on this subject. 57 

In order to persuade the world of the bottomless resource of 
ecclesiastical confiscation, the Assembly have proceeded to other con- 
fiscations of estates in offices, which could not be done with any 
common colour without being compensated out of this grand con- 
fiscation of landed property. They have thrown upon this fund, 
which was to show a surplus disengaged of all charges, a new 
charge; namely, the compensation to the whole body of the dis- 
banded judicature; and of all suppressed offices and estates; a 
charge which I cannot ascertain, but which unquestionably amounts 
to many French millions. Another of the new charges in an annuity 

57 "Ce n'est point a 1'assemblee entiere que je m'adresse ici; je ne parle qu'a ceux 
qui 1'egarent, en lui cachant sous des gazes se"duisantes le but ou ils 1'entrainent. 
C'est a eux que je dis: votre objet, vous n'en disconviendrez pas, c'est d'oter tout 
espoir au clerge, et de consommer sa ruine; c'est-la, en ne vous soupc.onnant d'aucune 
combinaison de cupidite", d'aucun regard sur le jeu des erTets publics, c'est-la ce qu'on 
doit croire que vous avez en vue dans la terrible operation que vous proposez; c'est 
ce qui doit en etre le fruit. Mais le peuple que vous y inte"ressez, quel avantage peut-il 
y trouver? En vous servant sans cesse de lui, que faites vous pour lui? Rien, 
absolument rien; et, au contraire, vous faites ce qui ne conduit qu'a 1'accabler de 
nouvelles charges. Vous avez rejete", a son prejudice, une offre de 400 millions, dont 
1'acceptation pouvoit devenir un moyen de soulagement en sa faveur; et a cette 
ressource, aussi profitable que legitime, vous avez substitue une injustice ruineuse, 
qui, de votre propre aveu, charge le tresor public, et par consequent le peuple, d'un 
surcroit de depense annuelle de 50 millions au moins, et d'un remboursement de 
150 millions. 

"Malheureux peuple! voila ce que vous vaut en dernier resultat 1 'expropriation de 
1'Eglise, et la duret des decrets taxateurs du traitement des ministres d'une religion 
bienfaisante; et desormais ils seront a votre charge: leurs charites soulageoient les 
pauvres; et vous allez etre imposes pour subvenir a leur entretien!" De I'Etat de la 
France, p. 81. See also p. 92, and the following pages. 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 369 

of four hundred and eighty thousand pounds sterling, to be paid 
(if they choose to keep faith) by daily payments, for the interest of 
the first assignats. Have they ever given themselves the trouble to 
state fairly the expense of the management of the church lands in 
the hands of the municipalities, to whose care, skill, and diligence, 
and that of their legion of unknown under-agents, they have chosen 
to commit the charge of the forfeited estates, and the consequence 
of which had been so ably pointed out by the bishop of Nancy? 

But it is unnecessary to dwell on these obvious heads of encum- 
brance. Have they made out any clear state of the grand encum- 
brance of all, I mean the whole of the general and municipal estab- 
lishments of all sorts, and compared it with the regular income by 
revenue? Every deficiency in these becomes a charge on the con- 
fiscated estate, before the creditor can plant his cabbages on an acre 
of church property. There is no other prop than this confiscation 
to keep the whole state from tumbling to the ground. In this situa- 
tion they have purposely covered all, that they ought industriously 
to have cleared, with a thick fog; and then, blindfold themselves, 
like bulls that shut their eyes when they push, they drive, by the 
point of the bayonets, their slaves, blindfolded indeed no worse than 
their lords, to take their fictions for currencies, and to swallow down 
paper pills by thirty-four millions sterling at a dose. Then they 
proudly lay in their claim to a future credit, on failure of all their 
past engagements, and at a time when (if in such a matter anything 
can be clear) it is clear that the surplus estates will never answer even 
the first of their mortgages, I mean that of the four hundred mil- 
lions (or sixteen millions sterling) of assignats. In all this procedure 
I can discern neither the solid sense of plain dealing, nor the subtle 
dexterity of ingenious fraud. The objections within the Assembly 
to pulling up the flood-gates for this inundation of fraud are unan- 
swered; but they are thoroughly refuted by an hundred thousand 
financiers in the street. These are the numbers by which the meta- 
physic arithmeticians compute. These are the grand calculations 
on which a philosophical public credit is founded in France. They 
cannot raise supplies; but they can raise mobs. Let them rejoice in 
the applauses of the club at Dundee, for their wisdom and patri- 
otism in having thus applied the plunder of the citizens to the 



37O EDMUND BURKE 

service of the state. I hear of no address upon this subject from 
the directors of the bank of England; though their approbation 
would be of a little more weight in the scale of credit than that of 
the club at Dundee. But, to do justice to the club, I believe the 
gentlemen who compose it to be wiser than they appear; that they 
will be less liberal of their money than of their addresses; and that 
they would not give a dog's-ear of their most rumpled and ragged 
Scotch paper for twenty of your fairest assignats. 

Early in this year the Assembly issued paper to the amount of 
sixteen millions sterling: what must have been the state into which 
the Assembly has brought your affairs, that the relief afforded by 
so vast a supply has been hardly perceptible? This paper also felt 
an almost immediate depreciation of five per cent., which in a little 
time came to about seven. The effect of these assignats on the re- 
ceipt of the revenue is remarkable. M. Necker found that the col- 
lectors of the revenue, who received in coin, paid the treasury in 
assignats. The collectors made seven per cent, by thus receiving in 
money, and accounting in depreciated paper. It was not very diffi- 
cult to foresee, that this must be inevitable. It was, however, not the 
less embarrassing. M. Necker was obliged (I believe, for a consider- 
able part, in the market of London) to buy gold and silver for the 
mint, which amounted to about twelve thousand pounds above the 
value of the commodity gained. That minister was of opinion, 
that, whatever their secret nutritive virtue might be, the state could 
not live upon assignats alone; that some real silver was necessary, 
particularly for the satisfaction of those who, having iron in their 
hands, were not likely to distinguish themselves for patience, when 
they should perceive that, whilst an increase of pay was held out to 
them in real money, it was again to be fraudulently drawn back by 
depreciated paper. The minister, in this very natural distress, ap- 
plied to the Assembly, that they should order the collectors to pay 
in specie what in specie they had received. It could not escape him, 
that if the treasury paid three per cent, for the use of a currency, 
which should be returned seven per cent, worse than the minister 
issued it, such a dealing could not very greatly tend to enrich the 
public. The Assembly took no notice of his recommendation. They 
were in this dilemma If they continued to receive the assignats, 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 371 

cash must become an alien to their treasury: if the treasury should 
refuse those paper amulets, or should discountenance them in any 
degree, they must destroy the credit of their sole resource. They 
seem then to have made their option; and to have given some sort 
of credit to their paper by taking it themselves; at the same time 
in their speeches they made a sort of swaggering declaration, some- 
thing, I rather think, above legislative competence; that is, that there 
is no difference in value between metallic money and their assignats. 
This was a good, stout, proof article of faith, pronounced under an 
anathema, by the venerable fathers of this philosophic synod. Credat 
who will certainly not ]udceus Apella. 

A noble indignation rises in the minds of your popular leaders, on 
hearing the magic lantern in their show of finance compared to the 
fraudulent exhibitions of Mr. Law. They cannot bear to hear the 
sands of his Mississippi compared with the rock of the church, on 
which they build their system. Pray let them suppress this glorious 
spirit, until they show to the world what piece of solid ground there 
is for their assignats, which they have not pre-occupied by other 
charges. They do injustice to that great, mother fraud, to compare 
it with their degenerate imitation. It is not true that Law built 
solely on a speculation concerning the Mississippi. He added the 
East India trade; he added the African trade; he added the farms of 
all the farmed revenue of France. All these together unquestionably 
could not support the structure which the public enthusiasm, not 
he, chose to build upon these bases. But these were, however, in 
comparison, generous delusions. They supposed, and they aimed 
at, an increase of the commerce of France. They opened to it the 
whole range of the two hemispheres. They did not think of feeding 
France from its own substance. A grand imagination found in this 
flight of commerce something to captivate. It was wherewithal to 
dazzle the eye of an eagle. It was not made to entice the smell of a 
mole, nuzzling and burying himself in his mother earth, as yours 
is. Men were not then quite shrunk from their natural dimensions 
by a degrading and sordid philosophy, and fitted for low and vulgar 
deceptions. Above all, remember, that, in imposing on the imagina- 
tion, the then managers of the system made a compliment to the 
freedom of men. In their fraud there was no mixture of force. This 



37 2 EDMUND BURKE 

was reserved to our time, to quench the little glimmerings of reason 
which might break in upon the solid darkness of this enlightened 
age. 

On recollection, I have said nothing of a scheme of finance which 
may be urged in favor of the abilities of these gentlemen, and 
which has been introduced with great pomp, though not yet finally 
adopted, in the National Assembly. It comes with something solid 
in aid of the credit of the paper circulation; and much has been 
said of its utility and its elegance. I mean the project for coining 
into money the bells of the suppressed churches. This is their 
alchemy. There are some follies which baffle argument; which go 
beyond ridicule; and which excite no feeling in us but disgust; and 
therefore I say no more upon it. 

It is as little worth remarking any further upon all their drawing 
and re-drawing, on their circulation for putting off the evil day, 
on the play between the treasury and the Caisse d'Escompte, and 
on all these old, exploded contrivances of mercantile fraud, now 
exalted into policy of state. The revenue will not be trifled with. 
The prattling about the rights of men will not be accepted in pay- 
ment for a biscuit or a pound of gunpowder. Here then the meta- 
physicians descend from their airy speculations, and faithfully follow 
examples. What examples? The examples of bankrupts. But de- 
feated, baffled, disgraced, when their breath, their strength, their 
inventions, their fancies desert them, their confidence still maintains 
its ground. In the manifest failure of their abilities, they take credit 
for their benevolence. When the revenue disappears in their hands, 
they have the presumption, in some of their late proceedings, to 
value themselves on the relief given to the people. They did not 
relieve the people. If they entertained such intentions, why did they 
order the obnoxious taxes to be paid? The people relieved them- 
selves in spite of the Assembly. 

But waiving all discussion on the parties who may claim the merit 
of this fallacious relief, has there been, in effect, any relief to the 
people in any form? Mr. Bailly, one of the grand agents of paper 
circulation, lets you into the nature of this relief. His speech to 
the National Assembly contained a high and laboured panegyric on 
the inhabitants of Paris, for the constancy and unbroken resolution 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 373 

with which they have borne their distress and misery. A fine pic- 
ture of public felicity! What! great courage and unconquerable 
firmness of mind to endure benefits, and sustain redress? One 
would think from the speech of this learned lord mayor, that the 
Parisians, for this twelvemonth past, had been suffering the straits 
of some dreadful blockade; that Henry the Fourth had been stop- 
ping up the avenues to their supply, and Sully thundering with his 
ordnance at the gates of Paris; when in reality they are besieged by 
no other enemies than their own madness and folly, their own cre- 
dulity and perverseness. But Mr. Bailly will sooner thaw the eternal 
ice of his Atlantic regions, than restore the central heat to Paris, 
whilst it remains "smitten with the cold, dry, petrific mace" of a 
false and unfeeling philosophy. Some time after this speech, that 
is, on the thirteenth of last August, the same magistrate, giving an 
account of his government at the bar of the same Assembly, ex- 
presses himself as follows: "In the month of July, 1789," [the period 
of everlasting commemoration,] "the finances of the city of Paris 
were yet in good order; the expenditure was counterbalanced by 
the receipt, and she had at that time a million" [forty thousand 
pounds sterling] "in bank. The expenses which she has been con- 
strained to incur, subsequent to the Revolution, amount to 2,500,000 
livres. From these expenses, and the great falling off in the product 
of the free gifts, not only a momentary, but a total, want of money 
has taken place." This is the Paris, upon whose nourishment, in 
the course of the last year, such immense sums, drawn from the 
vitals of all France, have been expended. As long as Paris stands 
in the place of ancient Rome, so long she will be maintained by the 
subject provinces. It is an evil inevitably attendant on the do- 
minion of sovereign democratic republics. As it happened in Rome, 
it may survive that republican domination which gave rise to it. In 
that case despotism itself must submit to the vices of popularity. 
Rome, under her emperors, united the evils of both systems; and 
this unnatural combination was one great cause of her ruin. 

To tell the people that they are relieved by the dilapidation of 
their public estate, is a cruel and insolent imposition. Statesmen, 
before they valued themselves on the relief given to the people by 
the destruction of their revenue, ought first to have carefully 



374 EDMUND BURKE 

attended to the solution of this problem : Whether it be more 
advantageous to the people to pay considerably, and to gain in pro- 
portion; or to gain little or nothing, and to be disburthened of all 
contribution? My mind is made up to decide in favour of the first 
proposition. Experience is with me, and, I believe, the best opinions 
also. To keep a balance between the power of acquisition on the 
part of the subject, and the demands he is to answer on the part 
of the state, is the fundamental part of the skill of a true politician. 
The means of acquisition are prior in time and in arrangement. 
Good order is the foundation of all good things. To be enabled to 
acquire, the people, without being servile, must be tractable and 
obedient. The magistrate must have his reverence, the laws their 
authority. The body of the people must not find the principles of 
natural subordination by art rooted out of their minds. They must 
respect that property of which they cannot partake. They must la- 
bour to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, 
as they commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, 
they must be taught their consolation in the final proportions of 
eternal justice. Of this consolation whoever deprives them, deadens 
their industry, and strikes at the root of all acquisition as of all con- 
servation. He that does this is the cruel oppressor, the merciless 
enemy of the poor and wretched; at the same time that by his wicked 
speculations he exposes the fruits of successful industry, and the 
accumulations of fortune, to the plunder of the negligent, the dis- 
appointed, and the unprosperous. 

Too many of the financiers by profession are apt to see nothing in 
revenue but banks, and circulations, and annuities on lives, and 
tontines, and perpetual rents, and all the small wares of the shop. 
In a settled order of the state, these things are not to be slighted, 
nor is the skill in them to be held of trivial estimation. They are 
good, but then only good, when they assume the effects of that 
settled order, and are built upon it. But when men think that these 
beggarly contrivances may supply a resource for the evils which 
result from breaking up the foundations of public order, and from 
causing or suffering the principles of property to be subverted, they 
will, in the ruin of their country, leave a melancholy and lasting 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 375 

monument of the effect of preposterous politics, and presumptuous, 
short-sighted, narrow-minded wisdom. 

The effects of the incapacity shown by the popular leaders in all 
the great members of the commonwealth are to be covered with the 
"all-atoning name" of liberty. In some people I see great liberty in- 
deed; in many, if not in the most, an oppressive, degrading servi- 
tude. But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It 
is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, 
without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty 
is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of 
their having high-sounding words in their mouths. Grand, swelling 
sentiments of liberty I am sure I do not despise. They warm the 
heart; they enlarge and liberalize our minds; they animate our 
courage in a time of conflict. Old as I am, I read the fine raptures 
of Lucan and Corneille with pleasure. Neither do I wholly con- 
demn the little arts and devices of popularity. They facilitate the 
carrying of many points of moment; they keep the people together; 
they refresh the mind in its exertions; and they diffuse occasional 
gaiety over the severe brow of moral freedom. Every politician oughr 
to sacrifice to the graces; and to join compliance with reason. Bu.' 
in such an undertaking as that in France, all these subsidiary senti 
ments and artifices are of little avail. To make a government re- 
quires no great prudence. Settle the seat of power; teach obedience 
and the work is done. To give freedom is still more easy. It is not 
necessary to guide; it only requires to let go the rein. But to form 
a free government; that is, to temper together these opposite ele- 
ments of liberty and restraint in one consistent work, requires much 
thought, deep reflection, a sagacious, powerful, and combining mind. 
This I do not find in those who take the lead in the National As- 
sembly. Perhaps they are not so miserably deficient as they appear. 
I rather believe it. It would put them below the common level of 
human understanding. But when the leaders choose to make them- 
selves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the con- 
struction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flat- 
terers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the 
people. If any of them should happen to propose a scheme of liberty, 



376 EDMUND BURKE 

soberly limited, and defined with proper qualifications, he will be 
immediately outbid by his competitors, who will produce some- 
thing more splendidly popular. Suspicions will be raised of his 
fidelity to his cause. Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue 
of cowards; and compromise as the prudence of traitors; until, in 
hopes of preserving the credit which may enable him to temper, and 
moderate, on some occasions, the popular leader is obliged to become 
active in propagating doctrines, and establishing powers, that will 
afterwards defeat any sober purpose at which he ultimately might 
-have aimed. 

But am I so unreasonable as to see nothing at all that deserves 
commendation in the indefatigable labours of this Assembly? I 
do not deny that, among an infinite number of acts of violence and 
folly, some good may have been done. They who destroy every- 
thing certainly will remove some grievance. They who make every- 
thing new, have a chance that they may establish something bene- 
ficial. To give them credit for what they have done in virtue of the 
authority they have usurped, or which can excuse them in the crimes 
by which that authority has been acquired, it must appear, that the 
same things could not have been accomplished without producing 
such a revolution. Most assuredly they might; because almost every 
one of the regulations made by them, which is not very equivocal, 
was either in the cession of the king, voluntarily made at the meet- 
ing of the states, or in the concurrent instructions to the orders. 
Some usages have been abolished on just grounds; but they were 
such, that if they had stood as they were to all eternity, they would 
little detract from the happiness and prosperity of any state. The 
improvements of the National Assembly are superficial, their errors 
fundamental. 

Whatever they are, I wish my countrymen rather to recommend 
to our neighbours the example of the British constitution, than to 
take models from them for the improvement of our own. In the 
former they have got an invaluable treasure. They are not, I think, 
without some causes of apprehension and complaint; but these they 
do not owe to their constitution, but to their own conduct. I think 
our happy situation owing to our constitution; but owing to the 
whole of it, and not to any part singly; owing in a great measure to 



ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE 377 

what we have left standing in our several reviews and reformations, 
as well as to what we have altered or superadded. Our people will 
find employment enough for a truly patriotic, free, and independent 
spirit, in guarding what they possess from violation. I would not 
exclude alteration neither; but even when I changed, it should be 
to preserve. I should be led to my remedy by a great grievance. 
In what I did, I should follow the example of our ancestors. I 
would make the reparation as nearly as possible in the style of the 
building. A politic caution, a guarded circumspection, a moral 
rather than a complexional timidity, were among the ruling princi- 
ples of our forefathers in their most decided conduct. Not being 
illuminated with the light of which the gentlemen of France tell us 
they have got so abundant a share, they acted under a strong im- 
pression of the ignorance and fallibility of mankind. He that had 
made them thus fallible, rewarded them for having in their conduct 
attended to their nature. Let us imitate their caution, if we wish to 
deserve their fortune, or to retain their bequests. Let us add, if we 
please, but let us preserve what they have left; and standing on the 
firm ground of the British constitution, let us be satisfied to admire, 
rather than attempt to follow in their desperate flights, the aeronauts 
of France. 

I have told you candidly my sentiments. I think they are not 
likely to alter yours. I do know that they ought. You are young; 
you cannot guide, but must follow the fortune of your country. But 
hereafter they may be of some use to you, in some future form 
which your commonwealth may take. In the present it can hardly 
remain; but before its final settlement it may be obliged to pass, as 
one of our poets says, "through great varieties of untried being," 
and in all its transmigrations to be purified by fire and blood. 

I have little to recommend my opinions but long observation and 
much impartiality. They come from one who has been no tool of 
power, no flatterer of greatness; and who in his last acts does not 
wish to belie the tenour of his life. They come from one, almost the 
whole of whose public exertion has been a struggle for the liberty 
of others; from one in whose breast no anger durable or vehement 
has ever been kindled, but by what he considered as tyranny; and 
who snatches from his share in the endeavours which are used by 



378 EDMUND BURKE 

good men to discredit opulent oppression, the hours he has employed 
on your affairs; and who in so doing persuades himself he has not 
departed from his usual office: they come from one who desires 
honours, distinctions, and emoluments, but little; and who expects 
them not at all; who has no contempt for fame, and no fear of 
obloquy; who shuns contention, though he will hazard an opinion: 
from one who wishes to preserve consistency, but who would pre- 
serve consistency by varying his means to secure the unity of his 
end; and, when the equipoise of the vessel in which he sails may 
be endangered by overloading it upon one side, is desirous of carry- 
ing the small weight of his reasons to that which may preserve its 
equipoise. 



A LETTER 

FROM 

THE RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE 
TO A NOBLE LORD 

ON THE ATTACKS MADE UPON HIM AND HIS PENSION, IN THE 

HOUSE OF LORDS, BY THE DUKE OF BEDFORD AND THE 

EARL OF LAUDERDALE, EARLY IN THE PRESENT 

SESSION OF PARLIAMENT 

1796 



INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

WHEN Burke retired from Parliament at the close of his labors in the 
trial of Warren Hastings, it was proposed to raise him to the peerage as 
Lord Beaconsfield; but before the matter came to a point, Burke's son 
Richard, in whom all his hopes and affections were centered, died and 
left his father desolate. A hereditary honor was no longer in question, 
and it was arranged, since Burke was now, as always, in financial diffi- 
culties, that he should get ^1,200 a year from the Civil List so long as 
his wife lived, and that the King should propose to Parliament a more 
liberal recognition of his services. But Pitt, probably in order to avoid 
unseemly opposition from Burke's enemies, arranged a grant of ^2,500 
a year directly from the Crown, so that Burke, though glad to get the 
money, was disappointed in its not being a more broadly national 
reward. 

Pitt's caution seems to have been justified, for in the next year, when 
party feeling was running high, the Duke of Bedford and Lord Lauder- 
dale seized upon the granting of the pension as a weapon with which to 
attack the administration. Burke at once saw, in the fact that the assault 
came from the head of the house of Bedford, an opportunity for the most 
telling repartee, and this opportunity he availed himself of with tre- 
mendous effect. As politics, it gives us Burke's own view of his record 
as an administrator; as literature, the piece is probably unsurpassed in 
the language for lofty and scornful invective. 



A LETTER 

FROM 

THE RIGHT HON. EDMUND BURKE 

TO A NOBLE LORD 

[i 79 6] 

MY LORD, 

I COULD hardly flatter myself with the hope, that so very early 
in the season I should have to acknowledge obligations to the 
Duke of BEDFORD, and to the Earl of LAUDERDALE. These noble 
persons have lost no time in conferring upon me that sort of honour, 
which it is alone within their competence, and which it is certainly 
most congenial to their nature, and to their manners, to bestow. 

To be ill spoken of, in whatever language they speak, by the 
zealots of the new sect in philosophy and politics, of which these 
noble persons think so charitably, and of which others think so 
justly, to me, is no matter of uneasiness or surprise. To have in- 
curred the displeasure of the Duke of Orleans or the Duke of Bed- 
ford, to fall under the censure of citizen Brissot or of his friend the 
Earl of Lauderdale, I ought to consider as proofs, not the least 
satisfactory, that I have produced some part to the effect I pro- 
posed by my endeavours. I have laboured hard to earn, what the 
noble lords are generous enough to pay. Personal offence I have 
given them none. The part they take against me is from zeal to the 
cause. It is well! It is perfectly well! I have to do homage to their 
justice. I have to thank the Bedfords and the Lauderdales for hav- 
ing so faithfully and so fully acquitted towards me whatever arrear 
of debt was left undischarged by the Priestleys and the Paines. 

Some, perhaps, may think them executors in their own wrong: I 
at least have nothing to complain of. They have gone beyond the 
demands of justice. They have been (a little perhaps beyond their 
intention) favourable to me. They have been the means of bringing 

381 



382 EDMUND BURKE 

out, by their invectives, the handsome things which Lord Grenville 
has had the goodness and condescension to say in my behalf. Re- 
tired as I am from the world, and from all its affairs and all it? 
pleasures, I confess it does kindle, in my nearly extinguished feel- 
ings, a very vivid satisfaction to be so attacked and so commended. 
It is soothing to my wounded mind, to be commended by an able, 
vigorous, and well-informed statesman, and at the very moment 
when he stands forth with a manliness and resolution, worthy of 
himself and of his cause, for the preservation of the person and gov- 
ernment of our sovereign, and therein for the security of the laws, 
the liberties, the morals, and the lives of his people. To be in any 
fair way connected with such things, is indeed a distinction. No 
philosophy can make me above it; no melancholy can depress me 
so low, as to make me wholly insensible to such an honour. 

Why will they not let me remain in obscurity and inaction? 
Are they apprehensive, that if an atom of me remains, the sect has 
something to fear? Must I be annihilated, lest, like old John Zisca's, 
my skin might be made into a drum, to animate Europe to eternal 
battle, against a tyranny that threatens to overwhelm all Europe, 
and all the human race? 

My Lord, it is a subject of awful meditation. Before this of 
France, the annals of all time have not furnished an instance of a 
complete revolution. That Revolution seems to have extended even 
to the constitution of the mind of man. It has this of wonderful in 
it, that it resembles what Lord Verulam says of the operations of 
nature. It was perfect, not only in its elements and principles, but 
in all its members and its organs from the very beginning. The 
moral scheme of France furnishes the only pattern ever known, 
which they who admire will instantly resemble. It is indeed an 
inexhaustible repertory of one kind of examples. In my wretched 
condition, though hardly to be classed with the living, I am not 
safe from them. They have tigers to fall upon animated strength. 
They have hyenas to prey upon carcasses. The national menagerie 
is collected by the first physiologists of the time; and it is defective 
in no description of savage nature. They pursue even such as me, 
into the obscurest retreats, and haul them before their revolution- 
ary tribunals. Neither sex, nor age, nor the sanctuary of the tomb, 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 383 

is sacred to them. They have so determined a hatred to all privi- 
leged orders, that they deny even to the departed the sad immuni- 
ties of the grave. They are not wholly without an object. Their 
turpitude purveys to their malice; and they unplumb the dead for 
bullets to assassinate the living. If all revolutionists were not proof 
against all caution, I should recommend it to their consideration, 
that no persons were ever known in history, either sacred or pro- 
fane, to vex the sepulchre, and, by their sorceries, to call up the 
prophetic dead, with any other event, than the prediction of their 
own disastrous fate. "Leave me, oh leave me to repose!" 

In one thing I can excuse the Duke of Bedford for his attack 
upon me and my mortuary pension. He cannot readily comprehend 
the transaction he condemns. What I have obtained was the fruit 
of no bargain; the production of no intrigue; the result of no com- 
promise; the effect of no solicitation. The first suggestion of it 
never came from me, mediately or immediately, to his Majesty or 
any of his ministers. It was long known that the instant my engage- 
ments would permit it, and before the heaviest of all calamities had 
for ever condemned me to obscurity and sorrow, I had resolved on 
a total retreat. I had executed that design. I was entirely out of the 
way of serving or of hurting any statesman, or any party, when the 
ministers so generously and so nobly carried into effect the spon- 
taneous bounty of the crown. Both descriptions have acted as be- 
came them. When I could no longer serve them, the ministers have 
considered my situation. When I could no longer hurt them, the 
revolutionists have trampled on my infirmity. My gratitude, I trust, 
is equal to the manner in which the benefit was conferred. It came 
to me indeed, at a time of life, and in a state of mind and body, 
in which no circumstance of fortune could afford me any real pleas- 
ure. But this was no fault in the royal donor, or in his ministers, 
who were pleased, in acknowledging the merits of an invalid servant 
of the public, to assuage the sorrows of a desolate old man. 

It would ill become me to boast of anything. It would as ill 
become me, thus called upon, to depreciate the value of a long life, 
spent with unexampled toil in the service of my country. Since the 
total body of my services, on account of the industry which was 
shown in them, and the /fairness of my intentions, have obtained the 



384 EDMUND BURKE 

acceptance of my sovereign, it would be absurd in me to range my- 
self on the side of the Duke of Bedford and the corresponding 
society, or, as far as in me lies, to permit a dispute on the rate at 
which the authority appointed by our constitution to estimate such 
things has been pleased to set them. 

Loose libels ought to be passed by in silence and contempt. By 
me they have been so always. I knew that as long as I remained 
in public, I should live down the calumnies of malice, and the judg- 
ments of ignorance. If I happened to be now and then in the 
wrong, (as who is not?) like all other men, I must bear the con- 
sequence of my faults and my mistakes. The libels of the present 
day are just of the same stuff as the libels of the past. But they 
derive an importance from the rank of the persons they come from, 
and the gravity of the place where they were uttered. In some way 
or other I ought to take some notice of them. To assert myself thus 
traduced is not vanity or arrogance. It is a demand of justice; it is 
a demonstration of gratitude. If I am unworthy, the ministers are 
worse than prodigal. On that hypothesis, I perfectly agree with the 
Duke of Bedford. 

For whatever I have been (I am now no more) I put myself on 
my country. I ought to be allowed a reasonable freedom, because 
I stand upon my deliverance; and no culprit ought to plead in 
irons. Even in the utmost latitude of defensive liberty, I wish to 
preserve all possible decorum. Whatever it may be in the eyes of 
these noble persons themselves, to me their situation calls for the 
most profound respect. If I should happen to trespass a little, which 
I trust I shall not, let it always be supposed, that a confusion of char- 
acters may produce mistakes; that, in the masquerades of the grand 
carnival of our age, whimsical adventures happen; odd things are 
said and pass off. If I should fail a single point in the high respect 
I owe to those illustrious persons, I cannot be supposed to mean the 
Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale of the House of Peers, 
but the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of Lauderdale of Palace- 
Yard! The Dukes and Earls of Brentford. There they are on the 
pavement; there they seem to come nearer to my humble level; 
and, virtually at least, to have waived their high privilege. 

Making this protestation, I refuse all revolutionary tribunals, 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 385 

where men have been put to death for no other reason, than that 
they had obtained favours from the Crown. I claim, not the letter, 
but the spirit, of the old English law, that is, to be tried by my 
peers. I decline his Grace's jurisdiction as a judge. I challenge the 
Duke of Bedford as a juror to pass upon the value of my services. 
Whatever his natural parts may be, I cannot recognize, in his few 
and idle years, the competence to judge of my long and laborious 
life. If I can help it, he shall not be on the inquest of my quantum 
meruit. Poor rich man! He can hardly know anything of public 
industry in its exertions, or can estimate its compensations when its 
work is done. I have no doubt of his Grace's readiness in all the 
calculations of vulgar arithmetic; but I shrewdly suspect, that he is 
little studied in the theory of moral proportions; and has never 
learned the rule of three in the arithmetic of policy and state. 

His Grace thinks I have obtained too much. I answer, that my 
exertions, whatever they have been, were such as no hopes of pe- 
cuniary reward could possibly excite; and no pecuniary compensa- 
tion can possibly reward them. Between money and such services, 
if done by abler men than I am, there is no common principle of 
comparison; they are quantities incommensurable. Money is made 
for the comfort and convenience of animal life. It cannot be a re- 
ward for what mere animal life must indeed sustain, but never can 
inspire. With submission to his Grace, I have not had more than 
sufficient. As to any noble use, I trust I know how to employ, as 
well as he, a much greater fortune than he possesses. In a more 
confined application, I certainly stand in need of every kind of 
relief and easement much more than he does. When I say I have 
not received more than I deserve, is this the language I hold to 
Majesty? No! Far, very far, from it! Before that presence, I claim 
no merit at all. Everything towards me is favour, and bounty. One 
style to a gracious benefactor; another to a proud and insulting foe. 

His Grace is pleased to aggravate my guilt, by charging my ac- 
ceptance of his Majesty's grant as a departure from my ideas, and 
the spirit of my conduct with regard to economy. If it be, my 
ideas of economy were false and ill-founded. But they are the Duke 
of Bedford's ideas of economy I have contradicted, and not my 
own. If he means to allude to certain bills brought in by me on 



EDMUND BURKE 

a message from the throne in 1782, I tell him that there is nothing 
in my conduct that can contradict either the letter or the spirit of 
those acts. Does he mean the pay-office act? I take it for granted 
he does not. The act to which he alludes, is, I suppose, the estab- 
lishment act. I greatly doubt whether his Grace has ever read the 
one or the other. The first of these systems cost me, with every as- 
sistance which my then situation gave me, pains incredible. I found 
an opinion common through all the offices, and general in the public 
at large, that it would prove impossible to reform and methodize the 
office of paymaster-general. I undertook it, however; and I suc- 
ceeded in my undertaking. Whether the military service, or whether 
the general economy of our finances, have profited by that act, I 
leave to those who are acquainted with the army, and with the 
treasury, to judge. 

An opinion full as general prevailed also at the same time, that 
nothing could be done for the regulation of the civil-list establish- 
ment. The very attempt to introduce method into it, and any limi- 
tations to its services, was held absurd. I had not seen the man, 
who so much as suggested one economical principle, or an economi- 
cal expedient, upon that subject. Nothing but coarse amputation, or 
coarser taxation, were then talked of, both of them without design, 
combination, or the least shadow of principle. Blind and headlong 
zeal, or factious fury, were the whole contribution brought by the 
most noisy on that occasion, towards the satisfaction of the public, 
or the relief of the Crown. 

Let me tell my youthful censor, that the necessities of that time 
required something very different from what others then suggested, 
or what his Grace now conceives. Let me inform him, that it was 
one of the most critical periods in our annals. 

Astronomers have supposed, that if a certain comet, whose path 
intercepted the ecliptic, had met the earth in some (I forget what) 
sign, it would have whirled us along with it, in its eccentric course, 
into God knows what regions of heat and cold. Had the portentous 
comet of the rights of man, (which "from its horrid hair shakes 
pestilence and war," and "with fear of change perplexes monarchs,") 
had that comet crossed upon us in that internal state of England, 
nothing human could have prevented our being irresistibly hurried, 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 387 

out of the highway of heaven, into all the vices, crimes, horrors, and 
miseries of the French Revolution. 

Happily, France was not then Jacobinised. Her hostility was at 
a good distance. We had a limb cut off; but we preserved the body. 
We lost our colonies; but we kept our constitution. There was, 
indeed, much intestine heat; there was a dreadful fermentation. 
Wild and savage insurrection quitted the woods, and prowled about 
our streets in the name of reform. Such was the distemper of the 
public mind, that there was no madman, in his maddest ideas, and 
maddest projects, who might not count upon numbers to support 
his principles and execute his designs. 

Many of the changes, by a great misnomer called parliamentary 
reforms, went, not in the intention of all the professors and sup- 
porters of them, undoubtedly, but went in their certain, and, in my 
opinion, not very remote effect, home to the utter destruction of the 
constitution of this kingdom. Had they taken place, not France, 
but England, would have had the honour of leading up the death- 
dance of democratic revolution. Other projects, exactly coincident 
in time with those, struck at the very existence of the kingdom under 
any constitution. There are those who remember the blind fury of 
some, and the lamentable helplessness of others; here, a torpid con- 
fusion, from a panic fear of the danger; there, the same inaction from 
a stupid insensibility to it; here, well-wishers to the mischief; there, 
indifferent lookers-on. At the same time, a sort of national conven- 
tion, dubious in its nature, and perilous in its example, nosed parlia- 
ment in the very seat of its authority; sat with a sort of superin- 
tendence over it; and little less than dictated to it, not only laws, 
but the very form and essence of legislature itself. In Ireland things 
ran in a still more eccentric course. Government was unnerved, 
confounded, and in a manner suspended. Its equipoise was totally 
gone. I do not mean to speak disrespectfully of Lord North. He 
was a man of admirable parts; of general knowledge; of a versatile 
understanding fitted for every sort of business; of infinite wit and 
pleasantry; of a delightful temper; and with a mind most perfectly 
disinterested. But it would be only to degrade myself by a weak 
adulation, and not to honour the memory of a great man, to deny 
that he wanted something of the vigilance and spirit of command, 



388 EDMUND BURKE 

that the time required. Indeed, a darkness, next to the fog of this 
awful day, loured over the whole region. For a little time the helm 
appeared abandoned 

Ipse diem noctemque negat d'iscernere ccelo, 
Nee meminisse vice media Palinurus in undd. 

At that time I was connected with men of high place in the com- 
munity. They loved liberty as much as the Duke of Bedford can 
do; and they understood it at least as well. Perhaps their politics, 
as usual, took a tincture from their character, and they cultivated 
what they loved. The liberty they pursued was a liberty insepara- 
ble from order, from virtue, from morals, and from religion; and 
was neither hypocritically nor fanatically followed. They did not 
wish, that liberty, in itself one of the first of blessings, should in 
its perversion become the greatest curse which could fall upon man- 
kind. To preserve the constitution entire, and practically equal to 
all the great ends of its formation, not in one single part, but in all 
its parts, was to them the first object. Popularity and power they 
regarded alike. These were with them only different means of ob- 
taining that object; and had no preference over each other in their 
minds, but as one or the other might afford a surer or a less certain 
prospect of arriving at that end. It is some consolation to me in the 
cheerless gloom, which darkens the evening of my life, that with 
them I commenced my political career, and never for a moment, 
in reality, nor in appearance, for any length of time, was separated 
from their good wishes and good opinion. 

By what accident it matters not, nor upon what desert, but just 
then, and in the midst of that hunt of obloquy, which ever has 
pursued me with a full cry through life, I had obtained a very con- 
siderable degree of public confidence. I know well enough how 
equivocal a test this kind of popular opinion forms of the merit 
that obtained it. I am no stranger to the insecurity of its tenure. I do 
not boast of it. It is mentioned to show, not how highly I prize 
the thing, but my right to value the use I made of it. I endeavoured 
to turn that short-lived advantage to myself into a permanent benefit 
to my country. Far am I from detracting from the merit of some 
gentlemen, out of office or in it, on that occasion. No! It is not 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 389 

my way to refuse a full and heaped measure of justice to the aids 
that I receive. I have, through life, been willing to give every- 
thing to others; and to reserve nothing for myself, but the inward 
conscience, that I had omitted no pains to discover, to animate, to 
discipline, to direct the abilities of the country for its service, and 
to place them in the best light to improve their age, or to adorn 
it. This conscience I have. I have never suppressed any man; never 
checked him for a moment in his course, by any jealousy or by any 
policy. I was always ready, to the height of my means, (and they 
were always infinitely below my desires,) to forward those abilities 
which overpowered my own. He is an ill-furnished undertaker, who 
has no machinery but his own hands to work with. Poor in my own 
faculties, I ever thought myself rich in theirs. In that period of 
difficulty and danger, more especially, I consulted, and sincerely 
co-operated with, men of all parties, who seemed disposed to the 
same ends, or to any main part of them. Nothing to prevent dis- 
order was omitted: when it appeared, nothing to subdue it was left 
uncounselled, nor unexecuted, as far as I could prevail. At the 
time I speak of, and having a momentary lead, so aided and so 
encouraged, and as a feeble instrument in a mighty hand I do not 
say I saved my country; I am sure I did my country important 
service. There were few, indeed, that did not at that time acknowl- 
edge it, and that time was thirteen years ago. It was but one voice, 
that no man in the kingdom better deserved an honourable provi- 
sion should be made for him. 

So much for my general conduct through the whole of the por- 
tentous crisis from 1780 to 1782, and the general sense then enter- 
tained of that conduct by my country. But my character, as a re- 
former, in the particular instances which the Duke of Bedford refers 
to, is so connected in principle with my opinions on the hideous 
changes, which have since barbarized France, and, spreading thence, 
threaten the political and moral order of the whole world, that it 
seems to demand something of a more detailed discussion. 

My economical reforms were not, as his Grace may think, the 
suppression of a paltry pension or employment, more or less. Econ- 
omy in my plans was, as it ought to be, secondary, subordinate, in- 
strumental. I acted on state principles. I found a great distemper in 



390 EDMUND BURKE 

the commonwealth; and, according to the nature of the evil and 
of the object, I treated it. The malady was deep; it was complicated, 
in the causes and in the symptoms. Throughout it was full of contra- 
indicants. On one hand government, daily growing more invidious 
from an apparent increase of the means of strength, was every day 
growing more contemptible by real weakness. Nor was this disso- 
lution confined to government commonly so called. It extended to 
parliament; which was losing not a little in its dignity and estima- 
tion, by an opinion of its not acting on worthy motives. On the 
other hand, the desires of the people (partly natural and partly in- 
fused into them by art) appeared in so wild and inconsiderate a 
manner, with regard to the economical object, (for I set aside for 
a moment the dreadful tampering with the body of the constitution 
itself,) that, if their petitions had literally been complied with, the 
state would have been convulsed; and a gate would have been 
opened, through which all property might be sacked and ravaged. 
Nothing could have saved the public from the mischiefs of the false 
reform but its absurdity; which would soon have brought itself, 
and with it all real reform, into discredit. This would have left a 
rankling wound in the hearts of the people, who would know they 
had failed in the accomplishment of their wishes, but who, like the 
rest of mankind in all ages, would impute the blame to anything 
rather than to their own proceedings. But there were then persons 
in the world, who nourished complaint; and would have been thor- 
oughly disappointed if the people were ever satisfied. I was not of 
that humour. I wished that they should be satisfied. It was my aim 
to give to the people the substance of what I knew they desired, and 
what I thought was right, whether they desired it or not, before it 
had been modified for them into senseless petitions. I knew that 
there is a manifest, marked distinction, which ill men with ill de- 
signs, or weak men incapable of any design, will constantly be con- 
founding, that is, a marked distinction between change and reforma- 
tion. The former alters the substance of the objects themselves; 
and gets rid of all their essential good, as well as of all the accidental 
evil, annexed to them. Change is novelty; and whether it is to 
operate any one of the effects of reformation at all, or whether it 
may not contradict the very principle upon which reformation is 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 391 

desired, cannot be certainly known beforehand. Reform is, not a 
change in the substance, or in the primary modification, of the ob- 
ject, but, a direct application of a remedy to the grievance com- 
plained of. So far as that is removed, all is sure. It stops there; and, 
if it fails, the substance which underwent the operation, at the very 
worst, is but where it was. 

All this, in effect, I think, but am not sure, I have said elsewhere. 
It cannot at this time be too often repeated; line upon line; precept 
upon precept; until it comes into the currency of a proverb, to inno- 
vate is not to reform. The French revolutionists complained of 
everything; they refused to reform anything; and they left nothing, 
no, nothing at all unchanged. The consequences are before us, 
not in remote history; not in future prognostication: they are about 
us; they are upon us. They shake the public security; they menace 
private enjoyment. They dwarf the growth of the young; they break 
the quiet of the old. If we travel, they stop our way. They infest us 
in town; they pursue us to the country. Our business is interrupted; 
our repose is troubled; our pleasures are saddened; our very studies 
are poisoned and perverted, and knowledge is rendered worse than 
ignorance, by the enormous evils of this dreadful innovation. The 
revolution harpies of France, sprung from night and hell, or from 
that chaotic anarchy, which generates equivocally "all monstrous, 
all prodigious things," cuckoo-like, adulterously lay their eggs, and 
brood over, and hatch them in the nest of every neighbouring state. 
These obscene harpies, who deck themselves in I know not what 
divine attributes, but who in reality are foul and ravenous birds of 
prey, (both mothers and daughters,) flutter over our heads, and 
souse down upon our tables, and leave nothing unrent, unrifled, un- 
ravaged, or unpolluted with the slime of their filthy oflfal. 1 

^ristius haud illis monstrum, nee saevior ulla 
Pestis, et ira Deum Stygiis sese extulit undis 
Virginei volucrum vultus; faedissima ventris 
Proluvies; unczque manus; et pallida semper 
Ora fame 

Here the poet breaks the line, because he (and that he is Virgil) had not verse or 
language to describe that monster even as he had conceived her. Had he lived in 
our time, he would have been more overpowered with the reality than he was with 
the imagination. Virgil only knew the horror of the times before him. Had he lived 
to see the revolutionists and constitutionalists of France, he would have had more 
horrid and disgusting features of his harpies to describe, and more frequent failures 
in the attempt to describe them. 



39 2 EDMUND BURKE 

If his Grace can contemplate the result of this complete innova- 
tion, or, as some friends of his will call it, reform, in the whole 
body of its solidity and compounded mass, at which, as Hamlet 
says, the face of heaven glows with horror and indignation, and 
which, in truth, makes every reflecting mind, and every feeling 
heart, perfectly thought-sick, without a thorough abhorrence of 
everything they say, and everything they do, I am amazed at the 
morbid strength or the natural infirmity of his mind. 

It was then not my love, but my hatred, to innovation, that pro- 
duced my plan of reform. Without troubling myself with the ex- 
actness of the logical diagram, I considered them as things sub- 
stantially opposite. It was to prevent that evil, that I proposed the 
measures, which his Grace is pleased, and I am not sorry he is 
pleased, to recall to my recollection. I had (what I hope that noble 
duke will remember in all its operations) a state to preserve, as well 
as a state to reform. I had a people to gratify, but not to inflame, or 
to mislead. I do not claim half the credit for what I did, as for 
what I prevented from being done. In that situation of the public 
mind, I did not undertake, as was then proposed, to new-model 
the House of Commons or the House of Lords; or to change the 
authority under which any officer of the Crown acted, who was 
suffered at all to exist. Crown, Lords, Commons, judicial system, 
system of administration, existed as they had existed before; and in 
the mode and manner in which they had always existed. My meas- 
ures were, what I then truly stated them to the House to be, in 
their intent, healing and mediatorial. A complaint was made of too 
much influence in the House of Commons; I reduced it in both 
Houses; and I gave my reasons article by article for every reduction, 
and showed why I thought it safe for the service of the state. I 
heaved the lead every inch of way I made. A disposition to 
expense was complained of; to that I opposed, not mere retrench- 
ment, but a system of economy, which would make a random ex- 
pense, without plan or foresight, in future not easily practicable. 
I proceeded upon principles of research to put me in possession of 
my matter; on principles of method to regulate it; and on princi- 
ples in the human mind and in civil afTairs to secure and perpetuate 
the operation. I conceived nothing arbitrarily; nor proposed any- 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 393 

thing to be done by the will and pleasure of others, or my own; 
but by reason, and by reason only. I have ever abhorred, since the 
first dawn of my understanding to this its obscure twilight, all the 
operations of opinion, fancy, inclination, and will, in the affairs of 
government, where only a sovereign reason, paramount to all forms 
of legislation and administration, should dictate. Government is 
made for the very purpose of opposing that reason to will and ca- 
price, in the reformers or in the reformed, in the governors or in 
the governed, in kings, in senates, or in people. 

On a careful review, therefore, and analysis, of all the component 
parts of the civil list, and on weighing them against each other, in 
order to make, as much as possible, all of them a subject of estimate, 
(the foundation and cornerstone of all regular provident economy,) 
is appeared to me evident, that this was impracticable, whilst that 
part, called the pension list, was totally discretionary in its amount. 
For this reason, and for this only, I proposed to reduce it, both in its 
gross quantity, and in its larger individual proportions, to a certainty; 
lest, if it were left without a general limit, it might eat up the civil- 
list service; if suffered to be granted in portions too great for the 
fund, it might defeat its own end; and, by unlimited allowances to 
some, it might disable the Crown in means of providing for others. 
The pension list was to be kept as a sacred fund; but it could not 
be kept as a constant, open fund, sufficient for growing demands, if 
some demands would wholly devour it. The tenour of the act will 
show that it regarded the civil list only, the reduction of which to 
some sort of estimate was my great object. 

No other of the Crown funds did I meddle with, because they 
had not the same relations. This of the four and a half per cents, 
does his Grace imagine had escaped me, or had escaped all the men 
of business, who acted with me in those regulations? I knew that 
such a fund existed, and that pensions had been always granted on 
it, before his Grace was born. This fund was full in my eye. It was 
full in the eyes of those who worked with me. It was left on princi- 
ple. On principle I did what was then done; and on principle what 
was left undone was omitted. I did not dare to rob the nation of 
all funds to reward merit. If I pressed this point too close, I acted 
contrary to the avowed principles on which I. went. Gentlemen are 



394 EDMUND BURKE 

very fond of quoting me; but if any one thinks it worth his while 
to know the rules that guided me in my plan of reform, he will read 
my printed speech on that subject; at least what is contained from 
page 230 to page 241 in the second volume of the collection which 
a friend has given himself the trouble to make of my publications. 
Be this as it may, these two bills, (though achieved with the great- 
est labour, and management of every sort, both within and without 
the House,) were only a part, and but a small part, of a very large 
system, comprehending all the objects I stated in opening my propo- 
sition, and, indeed, many more, which I just hinted at in my speech 
to the electors of Bristol, when I was put out of that representation. 
All these, in some state or other of forwardness, I have long had 
by me. 

But do I justify his Majesty's grace on these grounds? I think 
them the least of my services! The time gave them an occasional 
value. What I have done in the way of political economy was far 
from confined to this body of measures. I did not come into parlia- 
ment to con my lesson. I had earned my pension before I set my 
foot in St. Stephen's chapel. I was prepared and disciplined to this 
political warfare. The first session I sat in parliament, I found it 
necessary to analyze the whole commercial, financial, constitutional, 
and foreign interests of Great Britain and its empire. A great deal 
was then done; and more, far more, would have been done, if more 
had been permitted by events. Then, in the vigour of my man- 
hood, my constitution sunk under my labour. Had I then died, 
(and I seemed to myself very near death,) I had then earned for 
those who belonged to me, more than the Duke of Bedford's ideas 
of service are of power to estimate. But, in truth, these services I 
am called to account for are not those on which I value myself the 
most. If I were to call for a reward, (which I have never done,) it 
should be for those in which for fourteen years, without intermis- 
sion, I showed the most industry, and had the least success; I mean 
in the affairs of India. They are those on which I value myself 
the most; most for the importance; most for the labour; most for 
the judgment; most for constancy and perseverance in the pursuit. 
Others may value them most for the intention. In that, surely, they 
are not mistaken. 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 395 

Does his Grace think, that they, who advised the Crown to make 
my retreat easy, considered me only as an economist? That, well 
understood, however, is a good deal. If I had not deemed it of 
some value, I should not have made political economy an object of 
my humble studies, from my very early youth to near the end of 
my service in parliament, even before (at least to any knowledge of 
mine) it had employed the thoughts of speculative men in other 
parts of Europe. At that time it was still in its infancy in England, 
where, in the last century, it had its origin. Great and learned men 
thought my studies were not wholly thrown away, and deigned to 
communicate with me now and then on some particulars of their 
immortal works. Something of these studies may appear inciden- 
tally in some of the earliest things I published. The House has 
been witness to their effect, and has profited of them more or less 
for above eight and twenty years. 

To their estimate I leave the matter. I was not, like his Grace of 
Bedford, swaddled, and rocked, and dandled into a legislator; 
"Nitor in adversum" is the motto for a man like me. I possessed not 
one of the qualities, nor cultivated one of the arts, that recom- 
mend men to the favour and protection of the great. I was not 
made for a minion or a tool. As little did I follow the trade of 
winning the hearts, by imposing on the understandings, of the peo- 
ple. At every step of my progress in life, (for in every step was I 
traversed and opposed,) and at every turnpike I met, I was obliged 
to show my passport, and again and again to prove my sole title to 
the honour of being useful to my country, by a proof that I was not 
wholly unacquainted with its laws, and the whole system of its in- 
terests both abroad and at home. Otherwise no rank, no toleration, 
even for me. I had no arts but manly arts. On them I have stood, 
and, please God, in spite of the Duke of Bedford and the Earl of 
Lauderdale, to the last gasp will I stand. 

Had his Grace condescended to inquire concerning the person, 
whom he has not thought it below him to reproach, he might have 
found that, in the whole course of my life, I have never, on any pre- 
tence of economy, or on any other pretence, so much as in a single 
instance, stood between any man and his reward of service, or his 
encouragement in useful talent and pursuit, from the highest of 



396 EDMUND BURKE 

those services and pursuits to the lowest. On the contrary I have, 
on an hundred occasions, exerted myself with singular zeal to for- 
ward every man's even tolerable pretensions. I have more than 
once had good-natured reprehensions from my friends for carrying 
the matter to something bordering on abuse. This line of conduct, 
whatever its merits might be, was partly owing to natural disposi- 
tion; but I think full as much to reason and principle. I looked on 
the consideration of public service, or public ornament, to be real 
and very justice: and I ever held a scanty and penurious justice to 
partake of the nature of a wrong. I held it to be, in its conse- 
quences, the worst economy in the world. In saving money, I soon 
can count up all the good I do; but when, by a cold penury, I blast 
the abilities of a nation, and stunt the growth of its active energies, 
the ill I may do is beyond all calculation. Whether it be too much 
or too little, whatever I have done has been general and systematic. 
I have never entered into those trifling, vexatious, and oppressive 
details, that have been falsely, and most ridiculously, laid to my 
charge. 

Did I blame the pensions given to Mr. Barre and Mr. Dunning 
between the proposition and execution of my plan? No! surely no! 
Those pensions were within my principles. I assert it, those gentle- 
men deserved their pensions, their titles all they had; and more 
had they had, I should have been but pleased the more. They were 
men of talents; they were men of service. I put the profession of 
the law out of the question in one of them. It is a service that re- 
wards itself. But their public service, though, from their abilities 
unquestionably of more value than mine, in its quantity and its 
duration was not to be mentioned with it. But I never could drive 
a hard bargain in my life, concerning any matter whatever; and 
least of all do I know how to haggle and huckster with merit. Pen- 
sion for myself I obtained none; nor did I solicit any. Yet I was 
loaded with hatred for everything that was withheld, and with oblo- 
quy for everything that was given. I was thus left to support the 
grants of a name ever dear to me, and ever venerable to the world, 
in favour of those, who were no friends of mine or of his, against 
the rude attacks of those who were at that time friends to the gran- 
tees, and their own zealous partisans. I have never heard the Earl 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 397 

of Lauderdale complain of these pensions. He finds nothing wrong 
till he comes to me. This is impartiality, in the true, modern, revo- 
lutionary style. 

Whatever I did at that time, so far as it regarded order and 
economy, is stable and eternal; as all principles must be. A par- 
ticular order of things may be altered; order itself cannot lose its 
value. As to other particulars, they are variable by time and by 
circumstances. Laws of regulation are not fundamental laws. The 
public exigencies are the masters of all such laws. They rule the 
laws, and are not to be ruled by them. They who exercise the legis- 
lative power at the time must judge. 

It may be new to his Grace, but I beg leave to tell him, that mere 
parsimony is not economy. It is separable in theory from it; and in 
fact it may, or it may not, be a part of economy, according to cir- 
cumstances. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in 
true economy. If parsimony were to be considered as one of the 
kinds of that virtue, there is however another and a higher econ- 
omy. Economy is a distributive virtue, and consists not in saving, 
but in selection. Parsimony requires no providence, no sagacity, no 
powers of combination, no comparison, no judgment. Mere instinct, 
and that not an instinct of the noblest kind, may produce this false 
economy in perfection. The other economy has larger views. It 
demands a discriminating judgment, and a firm, sagacious mind. It 
shuts one door to impudent importunity, only to open another, and 
a wider, to unpresuming merit. If none but meritorious service or 
real talent were to be rewarded, this nation has not wanted, and this 
nation will not want, the means of rewarding all the service it ever 
will receive, and encouraging all the merit it ever will produce. No 
state, since the foundation of society, has been impoverished by that 
species of profusion. Had the economy of selection and proportion 
been at all times observed, we should not now have had an over- 
grown Duke of Bedford, to oppress the industry of humble men, 
and to limit, by the standard of his own conceptions, the justice, the 
bounty, or, if he pleases, the charity of the Crown. 

His Grace may think as meanly as he will of my deserts in the 
far greater part of my conduct in life. It is free for him to do so. 
There will always be some difference of opinion in the value of 



EDMUND BURKE 

political services. But there is one merit of mine, which he, of all men 
living, ought to be the last to call in question. I have supported with 
very great zeal, and I am told with some degree of success, those 
opinions, or if his Grace likes another expression better, those old 
prejudices, which buoy up the ponderous mass of his nobility, wealth, 
and titles. I have omitted no exertion to prevent him and them from 
sinking to that level, to which the meretricious French faction, his 
Grace at least coquets with, omit no exertion to reduce both. I have 
done all I could to discountenance their inquiries into the fortunes of 
those, who hold large portions of wealth without any apparent 
merit of their own. I have strained every nerve to keep the Duke of 
Bedford in that situation, which alone makes him my superior. 
Your Lordship has been a witness of the use he makes of that pre- 
eminence. 

But be it, that this is virtue! Be it, that there is virtue in this 
well-selected rigour; yet all virtues are not equally becoming to all 
men and at all times. There are crimes, undoubtedly there are 
crimes, which in all seasons of our existence, ought to put a generous 
antipathy in action; crimes that provoke an indignant justice, and 
call forth a warm and animated pursuit. But all things that concern, 
what I may call, the preventive police of morality, all things merely 
rigid, harsh, and censorial, the antiquated moralists, at whose feet 
I was brought up, would not have thought these the fittest matter 
to form the favourite virtues of young men of rank. What might 
have been well enough, and have been received with a veneration 
mixed with awe and terror, from an old, severe, crabbed Cato, 
would have wanted something of propriety in the young Scipios, 
the ornament of the Roman nobility, in the flower of their life. But 
the times, the morals, the masters, the scholars, have all undergone a 
thorough revolution. It is a vile illiberal school, this new French 
academy of the sans culottes. There is nothing in it that is fit for a 
gentleman to learn. 

Whatever its vogue may be, I still flatter myself, that the parents 
of the growing generation will be satisfied with what is to be taught 
to their children in Westminster, in Eton, or in Winchester: I still 
indulge the hope that no grown gentleman or nobleman of our time 
will think of finishing at Mr. Thelwall's lecture whatever may 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 399 

have been left incomplete at the old universities of his country. I 
would give to Lord Grenville and Mr. Pitt for a motto, what was 
said of a Roman censor or praetor (or what was he ? ) who, in virtue 
of a Senatus consultum, shut up certain academies, 
"Cludere ludum impudentice jussit." 

Every honest father of a family in the kingdom will rejoice at the 
breaking up for the holidays, and will pray that there may be a 
very long vacation in all such schools. 

The awful state of the time, and not myself, or my own justifica- 
tion, is my true object in what I now write; or in what I shall ever 
write or say. It little signifies to the world what becomes of such 
things as me, or even as the Duke of Bedford. What I say about 
either of us is nothing more than a vehicle, as you, my Lord, will 
easily perceive, to convey my sentiments on matters far more worthy 
of your attention. It is when I stick to my apparent first subject that 
I ought to apologize, not when I depart from it. I therefore must 
beg your Lordship's pardon for again resuming it after this very 
short digression; assuring you that I shall never altogether lose 
sight of such matter as persons abler than I am may turn to some 
profit. 

The Duke of Bedford conceives, that he is obliged to call the 
attention of the House of Peers to his Majesty's grant to me, which 
he considers as excessive, and out of all bounds. 

I know not how it has happened, but it really seems, that, whilst 
his Grace was meditating his well-considered censure upon me, he 
fell into a sort of sleep. Homer nods; and the Duke of Bedford 
may dream; and as dreams (even his golden dreams) are apt to be 
ill-pieced and incongruously put together, his Grace preserved his 
idea of reproach to me, but took the subject-matter from the Crown 
grants to his own family. This is "the stuff of which his dreams are 
made." In that way of putting things together his Grace is perfectly 
in the right. The grants to the house of Russell were so enormous, 
as not only to outrage economy, but even to stagger credibility. The 
Duke of Bedford is the leviathan among all the creatures of the 
Crown. He tumbles about his unwieldy bulk; he plays and frolics 
in the ocean of the royal bounty. Huge as he is, and whilst "he 
lies floating many a rood," he is still a creature. His ribs, his fins, his 



4OO EDMUND BURKE 

whalebone, his blubber, the very spiracles through which he spouts 
a torrent of brine against his origin, and covers me all over with the 
spray, everything of him and about him is from the throne. Is it 
for him to question the dispensation of the royal favour? 

I really am at a loss to draw any sort of parallel between the 
public merits of his Grace, by which he justifies the grants he holds, 
and these services of mine, on the favourable construction of which 
I have obtained what his Grace so much disapproves. In private 
life, I have not at all the honour of acquaintance with the noble 
Duke. But I ought to presume, and it costs me nothing to do so, 
that he abundantly deserves the esteem and love of all who live with 
him. But as to public service, why truly it would not be more ridicu- 
lous for me to compare myself in rank, in fortune, in splendid de- 
scent, in youth, strength, or figure, with the Duke of Bedford, than 
to make a parallel between his services and my attempts to be 
useful to my country. It would not be gross adulation, but uncivil 
irony, to say, that he has any public merit of his own to keep alive 
the idea of the services, by which his vast landed pensions were 
obtained. My merits, whatever they are, are original and personal; 
his are derivative. It is his ancestor, the original pensioner, that has 
laid up this inexhaustible fund of merit, which makes his Grace so 
very delicate and exceptious about the merit of all other grantees of 
the Crown. Had he permitted me to remain in quiet, I should 
have said, 'tis his estate; that's enough. It is his by law; what have 
I to do with it or its history? He would naturally have said on 
his side, 'tis this man's fortune. He is as good now as my ancestor 
was two hundred and fifty years ago. I am a young man with very 
old pensions; he is an old man with very young pensions, that's all. 

Why will his Grace, by attacking me, force me reluctantly to 
compare my little merit with that which obtained from the Crown 
those prodigies of profuse donation, by which he tramples on the 
mediocrity of humble and laborious individuals? I would willingly 
leave him to the herald's college, which the philosophy of the sans- 
culottes (prouder by far than all the Garters, and Norroys, and 
Clarencieux, and Rouge Dragons, that ever pranced in a procession 
of what his friends call aristocrats and despots) will abolish with 
contumely and scorn. These historians, recorders, and blazoners of 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 40 1 

virtues and arms, differ wholly from that other description of his- 
torians, who never assign any act of politicians to a good motive. 
These gentle historians, on the contrary, dip their pens in nothing 
but the milk of human kindness. They seek no further for merit 
than the preamble of a patent, or the inscription on a tomb. With 
them every man created a peer is first a hero ready made. They 
judge of every man's capacity for office by the offices he has filled; 
and the more offices the more ability. Every general officer with 
them is a Marlborough; every statesman a Burleigh; every judge a 
Murray or a Yorke. They who, alive, were laughed at or pitied by 
all their acquaintance, make as good a figure as the best of them in 
the pages of Guillim, Edmondson, and Collins. 

To these recorders, so full of good nature to the great and pros- 
perous, I would willingly leave the first Baron Russell, and Earl of 
Bedford, and the merits of his grants. But the aulnager, the 
weigher, the meter of grants will not suffer us to acquiesce in the 
judgment of the prince reigning at the time when they were made. 
They are never good to those who earn them. Well then; since the 
new grantees have war made on them by the old, and that the 
word of the sovereign is not to be taken, let us turn our eyes to 
history, in which great men have always a pleasure in contemplating 
the heroic origin of their house. 

The first peer of the name, the first purchaser of the grants, was 
a Mr. Russell, a person of an ancient gentleman's family raised by 
being a minion of Henry the Eighth. As there generally is some 
resemblance of character to create these relations, the favourite was 
in all likelihood much such another as his master. The first of those 
immoderate grants was not taken from the ancient demesne of the 
Crown, but from the recent confiscation of the ancient nobility of 
the land. The lion having sucked the blood of his prey, threw the 
offal carcass to the jackal in waiting. Having tasted once the food 
of confiscation, the favourites became fierce and ravenous. This 
worthy favourite's first grant was from the lay nobility. The sec- 
ond, infinitely improving on the enormity of the first, was from 
the plunder of the church. In truth his Grace is somewhat excusable 
for his dislike to a grant like mine, not only in its quantity, but in 
its kind so different from his own. 



402 EDMUND BURKE 

Mine was from a mild and benevolent sovereign; his from Henry 
the Eighth. 

Mine had not its fund in the murder of any innocent person of 
illustrious rank, 2 or in the pillage of any body of unoffending men. 
His grants were from the aggregate and consolidated funds of 
judgments iniquitously legal, and from possessions voluntarily sur- 
rendered by the lawful proprietors, with the gibbet at their door. 

The merit of the grantee whom he derives from was that of being 
a prompt and greedy instrument of a levelling tyrant, who oppressed 
all descriptions of his people, but who fell with particular fury on 
everything that was great and noble. Mine has been, in endeavour- 
ing to screen every man, in every class, from oppression, and par- 
ticularly in defending the high and eminent, who in the bad times 
of confiscating princes, confiscating chief governors, or confiscating 
demagogues, are the most exposed to jealousy, avarice, and envy. 

The merit of the original grantee of his Grace's pensions was in 
giving his hand to the work and partaking the spoil with a prince, 
who plundered a part of the national church of his time and coun- 
try. Mine was in defending the whole of the national church of my 
own time and my own country, and the whole of the national 
churches of all countries, from the principles and the examples 
which lead to ecclesiastical pillage, thence to a contempt of all pre- 
scriptive titles, thence to the pillage of all property, and thence to 
universal desolation. 

The merit of the origin of his Grace's fortune was in being a 
favourite and chief adviser to a prince, who left no liberty to their 
native country. My endeavour was to obtain liberty for the munici- 
pal country in which I was born, and for all descriptions and de- 
nominations in it. Mine was to support with unrelaxing vigilance 
every right, every privilege, every franchise, in this my adopted, my 
dearer, and more comprehensive country; and not only to preserve 
those rights in this chief seat of empire, but in every nation, in 
every land, in every climate, language, and religion, in the vast do- 
main that is still under the protection, and the larger that was once 
under the protection, of the British Crown. 

2 See the history of the melancholy catastrophe of the Duke of Buckingham. Temp. 
Hen. 8. 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 403 

His founder's merits were, by arts in which he served his master 
and made his fortune, to bring poverty, wretchedness, and depopula- 
tion on his country. Mine were, under a benevolent prince, in pro- 
moting the commerce, manufactures, and agriculture of his king- 
dom; in which his Majesty shows an eminent example, who even 
in his amusements is a patriot, and in hours of leisure an improver 
of his native soil. 

His founder's merit was the merit of a gentleman raised by the 
arts of a court, and the protection of a Wolsey, to the eminence of 
a great and potent lord. His merit in that eminence was, by insti- 
gating a tyrant to injustice, to provoke a people to rebellion. My 
merit was, to awaken the sober part of the country, that they might 
put themselves on their guard against any one potent lord, or any 
greater number of potent lords, or any combination of great lead- 
ing men of any sort, if ever they should attempt to proceed in the 
same courses, but in the reverse order; that is, by instigating a cor- 
rupted populace to rebellion, and, through that rebellion, introduc- 
ing a tyranny yet worse than the tyranny which his Grace's ances- 
tor supported, and of which he profited in the manner we behold 
in the despotism of Henry the Eighth. 

The political merit of the first pensioner of his Grace's house 
was that of being concerned as a counsellor of state in advising, and 
in his person executing, the conditions of a dishonourable peace with 
France; the surrendering the fortress of Boulogne, then our out- 
guard on the continent. By that surrender, Calais, the key of 
France, and the bridle in the mouth of that power, was, not many 
years afterwards, finally lost. My merit has been in resisting the 
power and pride of France, under any form of its rule; but in op- 
posing it with the greatest zeal and earnestness, when that rule ap- 
peared in the worst form it could assume; the worst indeed which 
the prime cause and principle of all evil could possibly give it. It 
was my endeavour by every means to excite a spirit in the House 
where I had the honour of a seat, for carrying on, with early vigour 
and decision, the most clearly just and necessary war, that this or 
any nation ever carried on; in order to save my country from the 
iron yoke of its power, and from the more dreadful contagion of its 
principles; to preserve, while they can be preserved, pure and 



404 EDMUND BURKE 

untainted, the ancient, inbred integrity, piety, good nature, and good 
humour of the people of England, from the dreadful pestilence, 
which, beginning in France, threatens to lay waste the whole moral, 
and in a great degree the whole physical, world, having done both 
in the focus of its most intense malignity. 

The labours of his Grace's founder merited the curses, not loud 
but deep, of the Commons of England, on whom he and his master 
had effected a complete parliamentary reform, by making them, in 
their slavery and humiliation, the true and adequate representatives 
of a debased, degraded, and undone people. My merits were, in 
having had an active, though not always an ostentatious, share, in 
every one act, without exception, of undisputed constitutional util- 
ity in my time, and in having supported, on all occasions, the au- 
thority, the efficiency, and the privileges of the Commons of Great 
Britain. I ended my services by a recorded and fully reasoned asser- 
tion on their own journals of their constitutional rights, and a vin- 
dication of their constitutional conduct. I laboured in all things to 
merit their inward approbation, and (along with the assistance of 
the largest, the greatest, and best of my endeavours) I received their 
free, unbiassed, public, and solemn thanks. 

Thus stands the account of the comparative merits of the Crown 
grants which compose the Duke of Bedford's fortune as balanced 
against mine. In the name of common sense, why should the Duke 
of Bedford think that none but of the House of Russell are entitled 
to the favour of the Crown? Why should he imagine that no king 
of England has been capable of judging of merit but King Henry 
the Eighth? Indeed, he will pardon me; he is a little mistaken; all 
virtue did not end in the first Earl of Bedford. All discernment 
did not lose its vision when his Creator closed his eyes. Let him 
remit his rigour on the disproportion between merit and reward 
in others, and they will make no inquiry into the origin of his 
fortune. They will regard with much more satisfaction as he will 
contemplate with infinitely more advantage, whatever in his pedi- 
gree has been dulcified by an exposure to the influence of heaven 
in a long flow of generations, from the hard, acidulous, metallic 
tincture of the spring. It is little to be doubted, that several of his 
forefathers in that long series have degenerated into honour and 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 405 

virtue. Let the Duke o Bedford (I am sure he will) reject with 
scorn and horror the counsels of the lecturers, those wicked panders 
to avarice and ambition, who would tempt him, in the troubles of 
his country, to seek another enormous fortune from the forfeitures 
of another nobility, and the plunder of another church. Let him 
(and I trust that yet he will) employ all the energy of his youth, 
and all the resources of his wealth, to crush rebellious principles 
which have no foundation in morals, and rebellious movements that 
have no provocation in tyranny. 

Then will be forgot the rebellions, which, by a doubtful priority, 
in crime, his ancestor had provoked and extinguished. On such a 
conduct in the noble Duke, many of his countrymen might, and 
with some excuse might, give way to the enthusiasm of their grati- 
tude, and, in the dashing style of some of the old declaimers, cry 
out, that if the fates had found no other way in which they could 
give a 3 Duke of Bedford and his opulence as props to a tottering 
world, then the -butchery of the Duke of Buckingham might be 
tolerated; it might be regarded even with complacency, whilst in 
the heir of confiscation they saw the sympathizing comforter of the 
martyrs, who suffered under the cruel confiscation of this day; 
whilst they behold with admiration his zealous protection of the 
virtuous and loyal nobiHty of France, and his manly support of his 
brethren, the yet standing nobility and gentry of his native land. 
Then his Grace's merit would be pure, and new, and sharp, as fresh 
from the mint of honour. As he pleased he might reflect honour on 
his predecessors, or throw it forward on those who were to succeed 
him. He might be the propagator of the stock of honour, or the root 
of it, as he thought proper. 

Had it pleased God to continue to me the hopes of succession, 
I should have been, according to my mediocrity, and the mediocrity 
of the age I live in, a sort of founder of a family. I should have 
left a son, who, in all the points in which personal merit can be 
viewed, in science, in erudition, in genius, in taste, in honour, in 
generosity, In humanity, in every liberal sentiment, and every liberal 
accomplishment, would not have shown himself inferior to the Duke 
of Bedford or to any of those whom he traces in his line. His Grace 

3 At si non aliam venture fata Neroni, &c. 



406 EDMUND BURKE 

very soon would have wanted all plausibility in his attack upon that 
provision which belonged more to mine than to me. He would 
soon have supplied every deficiency, and symmetrized every dis- 
proportion. It would not have been for that successor to resort to 
any stagnant wasting reservoir of merit in me, or in any ancestry. 
He had in himself a salient, living spring of generous and manly 
action. Every day he lived he would have re-purchased the bounty 
of the Crown, and ten times more, if ten times more he had received. 
He was made a public creature; and had no enjoyment whatever, 
but in the performance of some duty. At this exigent moment, the 
loss of a finished man is not easily supplied. 

But a Disposer whose power we are little able to resist, and whose 
wisdom it behoves us not at all to dispute, has ordained it in another 
manner, and (whatever my querulous weakness might suggest) a 
far better. The storm has gone over me; and I lie like one of those 
old oaks which the late hurricane has scattered about me. I am 
stripped of all my honours, I am torn up by the roots, and lie 
prostrate on the earth! There, and prostrate there, I most un- 
feignedly recognize the Divine justice, and in some degree submit to 
it. But whilst I humble myself before God, I do not know that it 
is forbidden to repel the attacks of unjust and inconsiderate men. 
The patience of Job is proverbial. After some of the convulsive 
struggles of our irritable nature, he submitted himself, and repented 
in dust and ashes. But even so, I do not find him blamed for repre- 
hending, and with a considerable degree of verbal asperity, those 
ill-natured neighbours of his, who visited his dunghill to read moral, 
political, and economical lectures on his misery. I am alone, I have 
none to meet my enemies in the gate. Indeed, my Lord, I greatly 
deceive myself, if in this hard season I would give a peck of refuse 
wheat for all that is called fame and honour in the world. This 
is the appetite but of a few. It is a luxury, it is a privilege, it is an 
indulgence for those who are at their ease. But we are all of us 
made to shun disgrace, as we are made to shrink from pain, and 
poverty, and disease. It is an instinct; and under the direction of 
reason, instinct is always in the right. I live in an inverted order. 
They who ought to have succeeded me are gone before me. They 
who should have been to me a posterity are in the place of ances- 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 407 

tors. I owe to the dearest relation (which ever must subsist in mem- 
ory) that act of piety, which he would have performed to me; I owe 
it to him to show that he was not descended, as the Duke of Bed- 
ford would have it, from an unworthy parent. 

The Crown has considered me after long service: the Crown 
has paid the Duke of Bedford by advance. He has had a long credit 
for any service which he may perform hereafter. He is secure, and 
long may he be secure, in his advance, whether he performs any 
services or not. But let him take care how he endangers the safety 
of that constitution which secures his own utility or his own insig- 
nificance; or how he discourages those, who take up, even puny 
arms, to defend an order of things, which, like the sun of heaven, 
shines alike on the useful and the worthless. His grants are in- 
grafted on the public law of Europe, covered with the awful hoar of 
innumerable ages. They are guarded by the sacred rules of pre- 
scription, found in that full treasury of jurisprudence from which 
the jejuneness and penury of our municipal law has, by degrees, 
been enriched and strengthened. This prescription I had my share 
(a very full share) in bringing to its perfection. 4 The Duke of Bed- 
ford will stand as long as prescriptive law endures: as long as the 
great stable laws of property, common to us with all civilized na- 
tions, are kept in their integrity, and without the smallest intermix- 
ture of laws, maxims, principles, or precedents of the grand Revolu- 
tion. They are secure against all changes but one. The whole revo- 
lutionary system, institutes, digest, code, novels, text, gloss, comment 
are, not only not the same, but they are the very reverse, and the 
reverse fundamentally, of all the laws, on which civil life has hith- 
erto been upheld in all the governments of the world. The learned 
professors of the rights of man regard prescription, not as a title to 
bar all claim, set up against all possession but they look on pre- 
scription as itself a bar against the possessor and proprietor. They 
hold an immemorial possession to be no more than a long-continued, 
and therefore an aggravated injustice. 

Such are their ideas; such their religion; and such their law. But 
as to our country and our race, as long as the well-compacted struc- 
ture of our church and state, the sanctuary, the holy of holies of that 

4 Sir George Savile's Act called The Nitlhim Tern pus Act. 



408 EDMUND BURKE 

ancient law, defended by reverence, defended by power, a fortress 
at once and a temple, 5 shall stand inviolate on the brow of the 
British Sion as long as the British monarchy, not more limited 
than fenced by the orders of the state, shall, like the proud Keep 
of Windsor, rising in the majesty of proportion, and girt with the 
double belt of its kindred and coeval towers, as long as this awful 
structure shall oversee and guard the subjected land so long the 
mounds and dykes of the low, fat Bedford level will have nothing 
to fear from the pickaxes of all the levellers of France. As long as 
our sovereign lord the king, and his faithful subjects, the Lords and 
Commons of this realm, the triple cord, which no man can break; 
the solemn, sworn, constitutional frank-pledge of this nation; the 
firm guarantees of each other's being, and each other's rights; the 
joint and several securities, each in its place and order, for every 
kind and every quality, of property and of dignity; as long as 
these endure, so long the Duke of Bedford is safe: and we are all 
safe together the high from the blights of envy and the spoliations 
of rapacity; the low from the iron hand of oppression and the in- 
solent spurn of contempt. Amen! and so be it: and so it will be, 

Dum domus SEnece Capitoli immobile saxum 
Accolet; imperiumque pater Romanus habebit. 

But if the rude inroad of Gallic tumult, with its sophistical rights 
of man, to falsify the account, and its sword as a make-weight to 
throw into the scale, shall be introduced into our city by a mis- 
guided populace, set on by proud great men, themselves blinded and 
intoxicated by a frantic ambition, we shall, all of us, perish and be 
overwhelmed in a common ruin. If a great storm blow on our 
coast, it will cast the whales on the strand as well as the periwinkles. 
His Grace will not survive the poor grantee he despises, no, not for 
a twelvemonth. If the great look for safety in the services they 
render to this Gallic cause, it is to be foolish, even above the weight 
of privilege allowed to wealth. If his Grace be one of these whom 
they endeavour to proselytize, he ought to be aware of the character 
of the sect, whose doctrines he is invited to embrace. With them 
insurrection is the most sacred of revolutionary duties to the state. 
5 Templum in modum arcis. Tacitus, of the Temple of Jerusalem. 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 409 

Ingratitude to benefactors is the first of revolutionary virtues. In- 
gratitude is indeed their four cardinal virtues compacted and amal- 
gamated into one; and he will find it in everything that has 
happened since the commencement of the philosophic Revolution 
to this hour. If he pleads the merit of having performed the duty 
of insurrection against the order he lives, (God forbid he ever 
should,) the merit of others will be to perform the duty of insurrec- 
tion against him. If he pleads (again God forbid he should, and 
I do not suspect he will) his ingratitude to the Crown for its 
creation of his family, others will plead their right and duty to pay 
him in kind. They will laugh, indeed they will laugh, at his parch- 
ment and his wax. His deeds will be drawn out with the rest of 
the lumber of his evidence room, and burnt to the tune of fa ira in 
the courts of Bedford (then Equality) house. 

Am I to blame, if I attempt to pay his Grace's hostile reproaches 
to me with a friendly admonition to himself? Can I be blamed, for 
pointing out to him in what manner he is likely to be affected, if the 
sect of the cannibal philosophers of France should proselytize any 
considerable part of this people, and by their joint proselytizing arms, 
should conquer that government, to which his Grace does not seem 
to me to give all the support his own security demands? Surely it 
is proper, that he, and that others like him, should know the true 
genius of this sect; what their opinions are, what they have done; 
and to whom; and what (if a prognostic is to be formed from the 
dispositions and actions of men) it is certain they will do hereafter. 
He ought to know, that they have sworn assistance, the only engage- 
ment they ever will keep, to all in this country, who bear a resem- 
blance to themselves, and who think as such, that The whole duty of 
man consists in destruction. They are a misallied and disparaged 
branch of the house of Nimrod. They are the Duke of Bedford's 
natural hunters; and he is their natural game. Because he is not very 
profoundly reflecting, he sleeps in profound security: they, on the 
contrary, are always vigilant, active, enterprising, and, though far 
removed from any knowledge which makes men estimable or use- 
ful, in all the instruments and resources of evil, their leaders are not 
meanly instructed, or insufficiently furnished. In the French Revo- 
lution everything is new; and, from want of preparation to meet so 



4IO EDMUND BURKE 

unlooked-for an evil, everything is dangerous. Never, before this 
time, was a set of literary men converted into a gang of robbers and 
assassins. Never before did a den of bravoes and banditti assume the 
garb and tone of an academy of philosophers. 

Let me tell his Grace, that an union of such characters, monstrous 
as it seems, is not made for producing despicable enemies. But if 
they are formidable as foes, as friends they are dreadful indeed. The 
men of property in France confiding in a force, which seemed to be 
irresistible, because it had never been tried, neglected to prepare for 
a conflict with their enemies at their own weapons. They were 
found in such a situation as the Mexicans were, when they were 
attacked by the dogs, the cavalry, the iron, and the gunpowder, of 
a handful of bearded men, whom they did not know to exist in 
nature. This is a comparison that some, I think, have made; and it 
is just. In France they had their enemies within their houses. They 
were even in the bosoms of many of them. But they had not sagacity 
to discern their savage character. They seemed tame, and even caress- 
ing. They had nothing but douce humanite in their mouth. They 
could not bear the punishment of the mildest laws on the greatest 
, criminals. The slightest severity of justice made their flesh creep. 
The very idea that war existed in the world disturbed their repose. 
Military glory was no more, with them, than a splendid infamy. 
Hardly would they hear of self-defence, which they reduced within 
such bounds, as to leave it no defence at all. All this while they medi- 
tated the confiscations and massacres we have seen. Had any one 
told these unfortunate noblemen and gentlemen, how, and by whom, 
the grand fabric of the French monarchy under which they flour- 
ished would be subverted, they would not have pitied him as a vision- 
ary, but would have turned from him as what they call a mauvais 
plaisant. Yet we have seen what has happened. The persons who 
have suffered from the cannibal philosophy of France, are so like 
the Duke of Bedford, that nothing but his Grace's probably not 
speaking quite so good French could enable us to find out any differ- 
ence. A great many of them had as pompous titles as he, and were 
of full as illustrious a race: some few of them had fortunes as ample: 
several of them, without meaning the least disparagement to the 
Duke of Bedford, were as wise, and as virtuous, and as valiant, and 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 41 1 

as well educated, and as complete in all the lineaments of men of 
honour, as he is: and to all this they had added the powerful out- 
guard of a military profession, which, in its nature, renders men 
somewhat more cautious than those, who have nothing to attend to 
but the lazy enjoyment of undisturbed possessions. But security was 
their ruin. They had dashed to pieces in the storm, and our shores 
are covered with the wrecks. If they had been aware that such a 
thing might happen, such a thing never could have happened. 

I assure his Grace, that if I state to him the designs of his enemies, 
in a manner which may appear to him ludicrous and impossible, I 
tell him nothing that has not exactly happened, point by point, but 
twenty-four miles from our own shore. I assure him that the Frenchi- 
fied faction, more encouraged, than others are warned, by what has 
happened in France, look at him and his landed possessions as an 
object at once of curiosity and rapacity. He is made for them in 
every part of their double character. As robbers, to them he is a 
noble booty; as speculatists, he is a glorious subject for their experi- 
mental philosophy. He affords matter for an extensive analysis, in 
all the branches of their science, geometrical, physical, civil, and politi- 
cal. These philosophers are fanatics; independent of any interest, 
which if it operated alone would make them much more tractable, 
they are carried with such a headlong rage towards every desperate 
trial, that they would sacrifice the whole human race to the slightest 
of their experiments. I am better able to enter into the character of 
this description of men than the noble Duke can be. I have lived 
long and variously in the world. Without any considerable preten- 
sions to literature in myself, I have aspired to the love of letters. I 
have lived for a great many years in habitudes with those who pro- 
fessed them. I can form a tolerable estimate of what is likely to 
happen from a character, chiefly dependent for fame and fortune on 
knowledge and talent, as well in its morbid and perverted state, as 
in that which is sound and natural. Naturally men so formed and 
finished are the first gifts of Providence to the world. But when they 
have once thrown off the fear of God, which was in all ages too often 
the case, and the fear of man, which is now the case, and when in 
that state they come to understand one another, and to act in corps, 
a more dreadful calamity cannot arise out of hell to scourge man- 



412 EDMUND BURKE 

kind. Nothing can be conceived more hard than the heart of a 
thoroughbred metaphysician. It comes nearer to the cold malignity 
of a wicked spirit than to the frailty and passion of a man. It is like 
that of the principle of evil himself, incorporeal, pure, unmixed, 
dephlegmated, defecated evil. It is no easy operation to eradicate 
humanity from the human breast. What Shakspeare calls "the com- 
punctious visitings of nature" will sometimes knock at their hearts, 
and protest against their murderous speculations. But they have a 
means of compounding with their nature. Their humanity is not 
dissolved. They only give it a long prorogation. They are ready to 
declare, that they do not think two thousand years too long a period 
for the good that they pursue. It is remarkable, that they never see 
any way to their projected good but by the road of some evil. Their 
imagination is not fatigued with the contemplation of human suffer- 
ing through the wild waste of centuries added to centuries of misery 
and desolation. Their humanity is at their horizon and, like the 
horizon, it always flies before them. The geometricians, and the 
chemists, bring, the one from the dry bones of their diagrams, and 
the other from the soot of their furnaces, dispositions that make them 
worse than indifferent about those feelings and habitudes, which 
are the support of the moral world. Ambition is come upon them 
suddenly; they are intoxicated with it, and it has rendered them fear- 
less of the danger, which may from thence arise to others or to them- 
selves. These philosophers consider men in their experiments, no 
more than they do mice in an air pump, or in a recipient of mephitic 
gas. Whatever his Grace may think of himself, they look upon him, 
and everything that belongs to him, with no more regard than they 
do upon the whiskers of that little long-tailed animal that has been 
long the game of the grave, demure, insidious, spring-nailed, velvet- 
pawed, green-eyed philosophers, whether going upon two legs, or 
upon four. 

His Grace's landed possessions are irresistibly inviting to an 
agrarian experiment. They are a downright insult upon the rights 
of man. They are more extensive than the territory of many of the 
Grecian republics; and they are without comparison more fertile 
than most of them. There are now republics in Italy, in Germany, 
and in Switzerland, which do not possess anything like so fair and 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 413 

ample a domain. There is scope for seven philosophers to proceed in 
their analytical experiments, upon Harrington's seven different forms 
of republics, in the acres of this one duke. Hitherto they have been 
wholly unproductive to speculation; fitted for nothing but to fatten 
bullocks, and to produce grain for beer, still more to stupify the dull 
English understanding. Abbe Sieyes has whole nests of pigeon-holes 
full of constitutions ready made, ticketed, sorted, and numbered; 
suited to every person and every fancy; some with the top of the 
pattern at the bottom, and some with the bottom at the top; some 
plain, some flowered; some distinguished for their simplicity, others 
for their complexity; some of blood colour; some of boue de Paris; 
some with directories, others without a direction; some with coun- 
cils of elders, and councils of youngsters; some without any council 
at all. Some where the electors choose the representatives; others, 
where the representatives choose the electors. Some in long coats, 
and some in short cloaks; some with pantaloons; some without 
breeches. Some with five-shilling qualifications; some totally un- 
qualified. So that no constitution-fancier may go unsuited from his 
shop, provided he loves a pattern of pillage, oppression, arbitrary im- 
prisonment, confiscation, exile, revolutionary judgment, and legal- 
ized premeditated murder, in any shapes into which they can be put. 
What a pity it is, that the progress of experimental philosophy should 
be checked by his Grace's monopoly! Such are their sentiments, I 
assure him; such is their language, when they dare to speak; and 
such are their proceedings, when they have the means to act. 

Their geographers and geometricians have been some time out of 
practice. It is some time since they have divided their own country 
into squares. That figure has lost the charms of its novelty. They 
want new lands for new trials. It is not only the geometricians of 
the republic that find him a good subject, the chemists have bespoken 
him after the geometricians have done with him. As the first set 
have an eye on his Grace's lands, the chemists are not less taken with 
his buildings. They consider mortar as a very anti-revolutionary in- 
vention in its present state; but properly employed, an admirable 
material for overturning all establishments. They have found that 
the gunpowder of ruins is far the fittest for making other ruins, and 
so ad infinitum. They have calculated what quantity of matter con- 



414 EDMUND BURKE 

vertible into nitre is to be found in Bedford House, in Woburn Ab- 
bey, and in what his Grace and his trustees have still suffered 
to stand of that foolish royalist Inigo Jones, in Covent Garden. 
Churches, play-houses, coffee-houses, all alike are destined to be 
mingled, and equalized, and blended into one common rubbish; 
and, well sifted and lixiviated, to crystallize into true, democratic, 
explosive, insurrectionary nitre. Their academy del Cimento (per 
antiphrasin) with Morveau and Hassenfrats at its head, have com- 
puted that the brave sans culottes may make war on all the aris- 
tocracy of Europe for a twelve-month, out of the rubbish of the 
Duke of Bedford's buildings. 6 

While the Morveaux and Priestleys are proceeding with these ex- 
periments upon the Duke of Bedford's houses, the Sieyes, and the 
rest of the analytical legislators, and constitution-vendors, are quite 
as busy in their trade of decomposing organization, in forming his 
Grace's vassals into primary assemblies, national guards, first, second, 
and third requisitioners, committees of research, conductors of the 
travelling guillotine, judges of revolutionary tribunals, legislative 
hangmen, supervisors of domiciliary visitation, exactors of forced 
loans, and assessors of the maximum. 

The din of all this smithery may some time or other possibly 
wake this noble Duke, and push him to an endeavour to save some 
little matter from their experimental philosophy. If he pleads his 
grants from the Crown, he is ruined at the outset. If he pleads he has 

6 There is nothing, on which the leaders of the republic, one and indivisible, value 
themselves, more than on the chemical operations, by which, through science, they 
convert the pride of aristocracy to an instrument of its own destruction on the 
operations by which they reduce the magnificent, ancient country seats of the nobility, 
decorated with the feudal titles of Duke, Marquis, or Earl, into magazines of what 
they call revolutionary gunpowder. They tell us, that hitherto things "had not yet 
been properly and in a revolutionary manner explored." "The strong chateaus, 
those feudal fortresses that were ordered to be demolished, attracted next the attention 
of your committee. Nature there had secretly regained her rights, and had produced 
saltpetre for the purpose, as it should seem, of facilitating the execution of your 
decree by preparing the means of destruction. From these ruins, which still frown 
on the liberties of the republic, we have extracted the means of producing good; and 
those piles, which have hitherto glutted the pride of despots, and covered the plots 
of La Vendee, will soon furnish wherewithal to tame the traitors, and to overwhelm 
the disaffected." "The rebellious cities, also, have afforded a large quantity of 
saltpetre, Commune Affranchie, (that is, the noble city of Lyons reduced in many 
parts to a heap of ruins,) and Toulon, will pay a second tribute to our artillery." 
Report, ist February, 1794. 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 415 

received them from the pillage of superstitious corporations, this in- 
deed will stagger them a little, because they are enemies to all corpo- 
rations, and to all religion. However, they will soon recover them- 
selves, and will tell his Grace, or his learned council, that all such 
property belongs to the nation; and that it would be more wise for 
him if he wishes to live the natural term of a citizen, (that is, accord- 
ing to Condorcet's calculation, six months on an average,) not to pass 
for an usurper upon the national property. This is what the Serjeants 
at law of the rights of man will say to the puny apprentices of the 
common law of England. 

Is the genius of philosophy not yet known? You may as well 
think the garden of the Tuileries was well protected with the cords 
of ribbon insultingly stretched by the National Assembly to keep the 
sovereign canaille from intruding on the retirement of the poor 
king of the French, as that such flimsy cobwebs will stand between 
the savages of the Revolution and their natural prey. Deep philoso- 
phers are no triflers; brave sans-culottes are no formalists. They will 
no more regard a Marquis of Tavistock than an Abbot of Tavistock; 
the Lord of Woburn will not be more respectable in their eyes than 
the Prior of Woburn; they will make no difference between the 
superior of a Covent Garden of nuns, and of a Covent Garden of 
another description. They will not care a rush whether his coat is 
long or short; whether the colour be purple or blue and buff. They 
will not trouble their heads, with what part of his head his hair is 
cut from; and they will look with equal respect on a tonsure and a 
crop. Their only question will be that of their Legendre, or some 
other of their legislative butchers, how he cuts up ? how he tallows in 
the cawl, or on the kidneys ? 

Is it not a singular phenomenon, that whilst the sans-culotte car- 
cass-butchers, and the philosophers of the shambles, are pricking 
their dotted lines upon his hide, and, like the print of the poor ox 
that we see in the shop-windows at Charing Cross, alive as he is, 
and thinking no harm in the world, he is divided into rumps, and 
sirloins, and briskets, into all sorts of pieces for roasting, boiling, 
and stewing, that all the while they are measuring him, his 
Grace is measuring me; is invidiously comparing the bounty of the 
Crown with the deserts of the defender of his order, and in the same 



41 6 EDMUND BURKE 

moment fawning on those who have the knife half out of the sheath 
poor innocent! 

"Pleas'd to the last, he crops the flow'ry food, 
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood." 

No man lives too long, who lives to do with spirit, and suffer 
with resignation, what Providence pleases to command, or inflict; 
but indeed they are sharp incommodities which beset old age. It 
was but the other day, that, on putting in order some things which 
had been brought here on my taking leave of London for ever, I 
looked over a number of fine portraits, most of them of persons now 
dead, but whose society, in my better days, made this a proud and 
happy place. Amongst these was the picture of Lord Keppel. It 
was painted by an artist worthy of the subject, the excellent friend 
of that excellent man from their earliest youth, and a common 
friend of us both, with whom we lived for many years without a 
moment of coldness, of peevishness, of jealousy, or of jar, to the day of 
our final separation. 

I ever looked on Lord Keppel as one of the greatest and best men 
of his age; and I loved and cultivated him accordingly. He was 
much in my heart, and I believe I was in his to the very last beat. It 
was after his trial at Portsmouth that he gave me this picture. With 
what zeal and anxious affection I attended him through that his 
agony of glory, what part my son took in the early flush and enthusi- 
asm of his virtue, and the pious passion with which he attached 
himself to all my connexions, with what prodigality we both squan- 
dered ourselves in courting almost every sort of enmity for his sake, 
I believe he felt, just as I should have felt such friendship on such 
an occasion. I partook indeed of this honour, with several of the 
first, and best, and ablest in the kingdom, but I was behindhand with 
none of them; and I am sure, that if to the eternal disgrace of this 
nation, and to the total annihilation of every trace of honour and 
virtue in it, things had taken a different turn from what they did, 
I should have attended him to the quarter-deck with no less good will 
and more pride, though with far other feelings, than I partook of 
the general flow of national joy that attended the justice that was 
done to his virtue. 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 417 

Pardon, my Lord, the feeble garrulity of age, which loves to diffuse 
itself in discourse of the departed great. At my years we live in 
retrospect alone; and, wholly unfitted for the society of vigorous life, 
we enjoy the best balm to all wounds, the consolation of friend- 
ship, in those only whom we have lost for ever. Feeling the loss of 
Lord Keppel at all times, at no time did I feel it so much as on the 
first day when I was attacked in the House of Lords. 

Had he lived, that reverend form would have risen in its place, 
and, with a mild, parental reprehension to his nephew the Duke of 
Bedford, he would have told him that the favour of that gracious 
Prince, who had honoured his virtues with the government of the 
navy of Great Britain, and with a seat in the hereditary great council 
of his kingdom, was not undeservedly shown to the friend of the 
best portion of his life, and his faithful companion and counsellor 
under his rudest trials. He would have told him, that to whomever 
else these reproaches might be becoming, they were not decorous in 
his near kindred. He would have told him, that when men in that 
rank lose decorum they lose everything. 

On that day I had a loss in Lord Keppel; but the public loss of 
him in this awful crisis ! I speak from much knowledge of the 
person, he never would have listened to any compromise with the 
rabble rout of this sans-culotterie of France. His goodness of heart, 
his reason, his taste, his public duty, his principles, his prejudices, 
would have repelled him for ever from all connexion with that horrid 
medley of madness, vice, impiety, and crime. 

Lord Keppel had two countries; one of descent, and one of birth. 
Their interest and their glory are the same; and his mind was capa- 
cious of both. His family was noble, and it was Dutch: that is, he 
was of the oldest and purest nobility that Europe can boast, among 
a people renowned above all others for love of their native land. 
Though it was never shown in insult to any human being, Lord 
Keppel was something high. It was a wild stock of pride, on which 
the tenderest of all hearts had grafted the milder virtues. He valued 
ancient nobility; and he was not disinclined to augment it with new 
honours. He valued the old nobility and the new, not as an excuse 
for inglorious sloth, but as an incitement to virtuous activity. He 
considered it as a sort of cure for selfishness and a narrow mind; 



418 EDMUND BURKE 

conceiving that a man born in an elevated place in himself was 
nothing, but everything in what went before and what was to come 
after him. Without much speculation, but by the sure instinct of 
ingenuous feelings, and by the dictates of plain unsophisticated, 
natural understanding, he felt, that no great commonwealth could 
by any possibility long subsist, without a body of some kind or 
other of nobility, decorated with honour, and fortified by privilege. 
This nobility forms the chain that connects the ages of a nation, 
which otherwise (with Mr. Paine) would soon be taught that no 
one generation can bind another. He felt that no political fabric 
could be well made without some such order of things as might, 
through a series of time, afford a rational hope of securing unity, 
coherence, consistency, and stability to the state. He felt that nothing 
else can protect it against the levity of courts, and the greater levity of 
the multitude. That to talk of hereditary monarchy, without any- 
thing else of hereditary reverence in the commonwealth, was a low- 
minded absurdity, fit only for those detestable "fools aspiring to be 
knaves," who began to forge in 1789 the false money of the French 
constitution That it is one fatal objection to all new fancied and new 
fabricated republics, (among a people, who, once possessing such an 
advantage, have wickedly and insolently rejected it,) that the preju- 
dice of an old nobility is a thing that cannot be made. It may be 
improved, it may be corrected, it may be replenished: men may be 
taken from it or aggregated to it, but the thing itself is matter of 
inveterate opinion, and therefore cannot be matter of mere positive 
institution. He felt that this nobility in fact does not exist in wrong 
of other orders of the state, but by them, and for them. 

I knew the man I speak of: and, if we can divine the future, out 
of what we collect from the past, no person living would look with 
more scorn and horror on the impious parricide committed on all 
their ancestry, and on the desperate attainder passed on all their pos- 
terity, by the Orleans, and the Rochefoucaulds, and the Fayettes, and 
the Vicomtes de Noailles, and the false Perigords, and the long et 
ccetera of the perfidious sans-culottes of the court, who like demoni- 
acs, possessed with a spirit of fallen pride, and inverted ambition, ab- 
dicated their dignities, disowned their families, betrayed the most 
sacred of all trusts, and, by breaking to pieces a great link of society 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 419 

and all the cramps and holdings of the state, brought eternal con- 
fusion and desolation on their country. For the fate of the miscreant 
parricides themselves he would have had no pity. Compassion for 
the myriads of men, of whom the world was not worthy, who by 
their means have perished in prisons, or on scaffolds, or are pining 
in beggary and exile, would leave no room in his, or in any well- 
informed mind, for any such sensation. We are not made at once 
to pity the oppressor and the oppressed. 

Looking to his Batavian descent, how could he bear to behold his 
kindred, the descendants of the brave nobility of Holland, whose 
blood, prodigally poured out, had, more than all the canals, meres, 
and inundations of their country, protected their independence, to 
behold them bowed in the basest servitude to the basest and vilest 
of the human race; in servitude to those who in no respect were supe- 
rior in dignity, or could aspire to a better place than that of hang- 
man to the tyrants, to whose sceptred pride they had opposed an 
elevation of soul, that surmounted, and overpowered, the loftiness 
of Castile, the haughtiness of Austria, and the overbearing arrogance 
of France? 

Could he with patience bear, that the children of that nobility, 
who would have deluged their country and given it to the sea, rather 
than submit to Louis XIV., who was then in his meridian glory, 
when his arms were conducted by the Turennes, by the Luxem- 
bourgs, by the Boufflers; when his councils were directed by the 
Colberts, and the Louvois; when his tribunals were filled by the 
Lamoignons and the Daguessaus that these should be given up 
to the cruel sport of the Pichegrus, the Jourdans, the Santerres, under 
the Rolands, the Brissots, and Gorfas, and Robespierres, the Reubels, 
the Carnots, and Talliens, and Dantons, and the whole tribe of regi- 
cides, robbers, and revolutionary judges, that, from the rotten car- 
cass of their own murdered country, have poured out innumerable 
swarms of the lowest, and at once the most destructive, of the classes 
of animated nature, which, like columns of locusts, have laid waste 
the fairest part of the world? 

Would Keppel have borne to see the ruin of the virtuous patri- 
cians, that happy union of the noble and the burgher, who, with sig- 
nal prudence and integrity, had long governed the cities of the 



4-O EDMUND BURKE 

confederate republic, the cherishing fathers of their country, who, 
denying commerce to themselves, made it flourish in a manner 
unexampled under their protection? Could Keppel have borne that 
a vile faction should totally destroy this harmonious construction, in 
favour of a robbing democracy, founded on the spurious rights 
of man? 

He was no great clerk, but he was perfectly well versed in the 
interests of Europe, and he could not have heard with patience, that 
the country of Grotius, the cradle of the law of nations, and one of 
the richest repositories of all law, should be taught a new code by the 
ignorant flippancy of Thomas Paine, the presumptuous foppery of 
La Fayette, with his stolen rights of man in his hand, the wild, profli- 
gate intrigue, and turbulency, of Marat, and the impious sophistry 
of Condorcet, in his insolent addresses to the Batavian republic. 

Could Keppel, who idolized the house of Nassau, who was him- 
self given to England along with the blessings of the British and 
Dutch revolutions; with revolutions of stability; with revolutions 
which consolidated and married the liberties and the interests of the 
two nations for ever, could he see the fountain of British liberty itself 
in servitude to France? Could he see with patience a Prince of 
Orange expelled as a sort of diminutive despot, with every kind of 
contumely, from the country, which that family of deliverers had so 
often rescued from slavery, and obliged to live in exile in another 
country, which owes its liberty to his house? 

Would Keppel have heard with patience, that the conduct to be 
held on such occasions was to become short by the knees to the fac- 
tion of the homicides, to entreat them quietly to retire? or, if the 
fortune of war should drive them from their first wicked and un- 
provoked invasion, that no security should be taken, no arrangement 
made, no barrier formed, no alliance entered into for the security 
of that, which under a foreign name is the most precious part of 
England? What would he have said, if it was even proposed that 
the Austrian Netherlands (which ought to be a barrier to Holland, 
and the tie of an alliance, to protect her against any species of rule 
that might be erected, or even be restored in France) should be 
formed into a republic under her influence, and dependent upon her 
power i 5 



A LETTER TO A NOBLE LORD 42! 

But above all, what would he have said, if he had heard it made 
a matter of accusation against me, by his nephew the Duke of Bed- 
ford, that I was the author of the war? Had I a mind to keep that 
high distinction to myself, as from pride I might, but from justice I 
dare not, he would have snatched his share of it from my hand, 
and held it with the grasp of a dying convulsion to his end. 

It would be a most arrogant presumption in me to assume to my- 
self the glory of what belongs to his Majesty, and to his ministers, 
and to his parliament, and to the far greater majority of his faithful 
people: but had I stood alone to counsel, and that all were determined 
to be guided by my advice, and to follow it implicitly then I should 
have been the sole author of a war. But it should have been a war 
on my ideas and my principles. However, let his Grace think as he 
may of my demerits with regard to the war with regicide, he will 
find my guilt confined to that alone. He never shall, with the small- 
est colour of reason, accuse me of being the author of a peace with 
regicide. But that is high matter; and ought not to be mixed with 
anything of so little moment, as what may belong to me, or even 
to the Duke of Bedford. 

I have the honour to be, &c. 

EDMUND BURKE. 




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